Drought: Charlie Toledo, Part Three: Aquifers

Charlie Toledo, Executive Director




Charlie Toledo, Executive Director of the Suscol Intertribal Council in Napa, CA, spoke with me last week about the drought and the water situation in California. This is part two of that interview.

Charlie helped author the Watershed Development plan for Napa County in its seminal years, 1992-1995, and more recently serves on the State Low Income Oversight Board, a committee of the California Public Utilities Commission. For more than 30 years, she has served as peace activist, community organizer, and healer, dedicated to preserving Native American culture and building the cohesiveness of indigenous groups in the Napa area. 

Drought: Charlie Toledo, Part Three: Aquifers

Part Two

Patricia: When you were speaking at the Harms Lavender Open House last June, you made a statement that within a year there would be a problem with water.

Charlie: There is. We’re in the middle of a drought right now. But I get my information from several sources.

Through Suscol Council, I was appointed to the Low Income Oversight Board, which is a committee of the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission), which, of course, involves water. One of the committees that I am chair of is Climate Change. I am also an oversight person on the water.

From Metropolitan Water District of Southern CA site

For the last three years, I’ve been talking about the headwaters in California at the state level on this Board. We meet quarterly. I ask the questions that nobody’s asking. We had a speaker at this Board, Curt Schmutte, a Delta Bay water consultant from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. He got brought in because of the questions I was asking. He showed us this plan that California plans to implement. It will cost six billion plus dollars, and perhaps ten times that amount in the end. [This is the plan to build a concrete tunnel to send more water to Southern California.] He kept stressing the importance of a riparian corridor: It reduces evaporation. It stabilizes the banks. It creates habitat for fish, crabs and the lower parts of the food chain, so it’s really important.

At the end of his lecture, I asked, “You’re saying that the riparian corridors are a very important part of the river’s health and the water’s health. You say that in California we transport huge amounts of water from northern California to southern California. Those channels in the Delta Bay Water Project provide water for Sacramento, San Jose, Fresno, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, all of the central valley, all of those major cities and agriculture areas, the water for the lower part of the state, but also Napa. They take water from Lake Berryessa and Napa buys it back at the southern end.”

Everybody sitting on the Board looked at me because I’m always talking about the importance of riparian corridors. Then I said, “You’re saying that the riparian corridors are really an essential part of the health of the river and the maintenance of a healthy waterway?”

He said, “Yes.”

“Where are the riparian corridors in this plan?” I asked again.

Well, there’s no riparian corridor restoration in this six billion dollar plan.

I said, “Where are the plans to repair the riparian corridor within the city limits of Sacramento, which is a huge hunk of the Sacramento River?”

He said, “There’s no plan to re-establish a riparian corridor within the city limits of Sacramento.” Which is almost 30 miles of river.

Napa County and City of Napa water supply used to come from Lake Berryessa and Rector Dam. In the 60’s when I was first moving to Napa, I remember the ranchers getting really upset. They said, “We’re selling them the water. Then we’re buying it back for more.” Which is how it is. Napa is dependent on this Delta Bay water. They’re sucking up all this water and moving it without a riparian corridor. I forget what percentage of the water is lost to evaporation, but it’s a considerable amount, even 10%.

The next day we’re on the Delta Bay tour. We’re in a bus with all these people who make decisions about water and with the water experts in the state. We’re on the river and these places where the water gets shuttled and fish get taken out of the water, so they don’t go through these filters. They’re actually trucking those fish 30 miles and then putting them back in the water so they don’t go through this filtering thing. He showed us this huge map of the Sacramento Bay Delta and the water plan. It’s currently being quoted as a six billion dollar project, to get it to transporting more water to southern California.

Patricia: Okay.

Charlie: I know, it’s stunning.

Patricia: It is.

Charlie: These are the experts. If you’re not scared, then get scared. You asked, how do I know these things?

Patricia: Yes.

Charlie: You know I just karmically or spiritually end up in the weirdest places. Why did I move to the Napa Creek and get to experience seven floods in ten years? Before the floods, during the floods and after the floods, I’d walk the creek and walk the river. When your house is about to flood or if you’re evacuated out, you can’t stop yourself from walking back and forth along the river. After the flood my neighbor and I would just go walking through the creeks and rivers. We would talk about what could be done to prevent this.

Napa Creek is the oldest inhabited part of Napa County. Napa Valley is one of the oldest inhabited places in North America. There’s habitation here for over 60,000 years. Napa Creek Confluence between Napa Creek and Napa River, which is where I lived for 17 years, is now referred to as downtown Napa Confluence . The oldest inhabited place, a place that did not used to flood. The native people would not have put themselves in a flood plain. What changed when the Europeans came is Europeans started putting asphalt and cement where the marshes, trees and wetlands had been. The wetlands and marches actually held the water, allowing the water to re-saturate and keeping the water from rushing and flooding.

Indigenous people lived close to water. They lived close to springs and rivers. If the river was going to flood too much, they would just move up a little bit, but they were living in permanent villages. They weren’t camping. For 60,000 years people inhabited this valley, managed the watershed through harvesting of the willow, harvesting and cleaning up the blackberries and then a perennial burn every three years to all the areas, so that real shrubby brush and stuff that causes all the wildfires now, that would all have been eliminated. The willow was used for basketry and houses. These plants were harvested for boats, housing and baskets.

All of that was being managed. All of California was fully inhabited, all was a managed agricultural preserve. That’s the talk I always give when I come to the Harms Open House. A very, very important part of watershed management is trees. You cannot talk about water without talking about trees. Trees have been full scale eliminated from industrialized communities. The water is not being held. The banks aren’t stabilized.

Part three: Underground aquifers, March 3

A current project at Suscol Intertribal Council, a 501(c)3 organization, focuses on building “Suskol House”, a spiritual center for Native American peoples in Pope Valley. The land is bought and the construction begins in April, 2014.  If you appreciate the work of Charlie Toledo in developing a healthy relationship to our waterways informed by native wisdom and current science, please consider making a tax deductible donation to the building of this unique structure, a model for use of materials and sustainability. For more info and to make your donation, watch this video.