POINT OF VIEW: Good stewardship for future generations

  • By W. Ron Allen Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe
  • Saturday, February 24, 2024 1:30am
  • Opinion
W. Ron Allen

W. Ron Allen

IT IS A tribal saying that “Every River Has Its People” and the Dungeness Watershed has been the home of the Jamestown S’Klallam and their ancestors for thousands of years.

Newcomers have been arriving since the late 1800s, settling in the Sequim-Dungeness area, sharing the benefits and stewardship responsibilities.

In 1855, S’Klallams reserved the rights to fish, among other provisions essential to our continuation as an indigenous people preserved in a treaty with the United States, which is recognized in Article IV of the constitution as Supreme Law of the Land.

An early water right adjudication (1924) provided for irrigation diversion from the Dungeness River at approximately five times the usual summer flow, with no minimum instream provision.

In the following decades, it became obvious that this water right depleted the river and its aquatic resources. Salmon runs plummeted and the S’Klallam could no longer fish on our prized Chinook.

Before the Chinook, summer chum, bull trout and steelhead stocks of the Dungeness were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), our Tribe was already committed to recovering Dungeness salmon – We are Salmon People and honored to preserve a resource that is essential to our way of life.

Instead of fighting in court, our Tribe wanted to work with our neighbors and community for a common cause.

Cooperation among the Tribe, Irrigators and Washington State resulted in a water trust agreement between the Irrigators and the State to facilitate long-term water conservation.

The agreement commits the water users to diligence in conserving water and keeping their delivery system efficient, recognizing that every cubic foot of river flow is precious.

This cooperative water management tool was awarded recognition by the Washington State Governor and the President’s Council on Sustainable Development.

It is important to share this history and recognize the years of challenging negotiations to find common ground on responsible stewardship.

Irrigation canals are not streams or wildlife corridors; they are water conveyance structures designed over 100 years ago, to provide water for our agriculture community in dry summer months.

When canals are not enclosed, they leak, literally draining the flow of the river and reducing instream habitat.

Both salmon health and community agricultural viability rely upon responsible water conservation.

Clallam Conservation District (CCD) has voluntarily assisted the Irrigators with implementation of outstanding water conservation and efficiency projects.

It is disappointing that a small number of landowners are obstructing this process.

While it is understandable for unaware landowners to desire a surface water amenity, it is a mistake to maintain private benefits at the expense of agricultural and tribal resources.

My hands are up to the community for its progress in water conservation.

We have been an example to others seeking a constructive alternative to litigation.

Our hands are up to the Clallam CD and irrigators, for your progressive initiative.

The leadership of our community must remain committed to collaboration, conservation, and partnership as we adapt and struggle with climate-related stressors.

At the end of the day, we must be accountable to our future generations as good stewards of natural resources essential to our wary of life in our Sequim/Dungeness Valley.

________

W. Ron Allen is chairman/CEO of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.

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