Letting loose the reins
Hailed as an historic moment on Monday, the federal government turned over control of Truckee River water to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.
In many ways, however, the significance of the event could be marked as well by a sigh and a comment, “It’s about time.”
The agreement signed on the banks of the river between the tribe and federal agencies allows the Paiutes to have final say on water releases from two reservoirs, Stampede and Prosser Creek, that store Truckee water.
It is the first time the federal government has allowed a tribe to have authority over water releases off a reservation. The releases are timed to protect rare fish – the cui ui and Lahontan cutthroat trout.
Since the pioneering Newlands irrigation project in the early 1900s, the federal government has kept tight rein on water control, not just as it concerns tribes but over many farmer-run water districts as well.
The often-heard excuse is that the Indians simply didn’t have the expertise to operate the system. A more charitable explanation – and closer to the truth – is that the federal government is able to impose its authority over disparate water users and make decisions that might otherwise get muddled in politics.
It’s one thing to control the water. It’s another to have the political clout to be able to back up your decisions.
But like many other Big Brother intentions by the federal government, holding onto authority over Truckee River water releases for so long only delayed and denied the Paiute’s ability to administer. Finally, in 1999, the Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Indian Affairs have let go – albeit, on two small reservoirs.
An important point should not be overlooked in this agreement.
The work done by Bureau of Reclamation area manager Betsy Rieke and others in securing this agreement should be held up as an example of federal bureaucrats returning control to a local government.
If we’re going to bash the feds when they’re wrong, we must praise them when they’re right.