Environment | Opinion

Anna Hohag: Bringing indigenous science to water management

Laws Ditch near Bishop, California, in the homeland of the Bishop Paiute Tribe. Photo: Dustin Blakey

Anna Hohag, a citizen of the Bishop Paiute Tribe, explains how water managers can learn from the teachings of her Paiute and Shoshone ancestors as they deal with the threats of flooding in southern California:
This past March 20 the Mayor of Los Angeles issued an emergency declaration for the Owens Valley as a response to the record snowpack that fell upon the Sierra Nevada mountain range. With snowpack levels in the Eastern Sierra registering at 241 percent of normal, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is expecting one of the largest snowpack runoffs from the watershed in the more than 100-year history of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. To put this into perspective, up to 1 million acre feet of water, about twice the amount of water that residents of Los Angeles consume in a year, is anticipated to flow through the aqueduct system from the Owens Valley.

But this flooding phenomenon is not a new concept in the Owens Valley. In fact, the original inhabitants of the valley rightfully called this place Payahüünadü—the place of flowing water. My people are the Nüümü (Paiute) and Newe (Shoshone) and our traditional water management systems, including flood irrigation and the manipulation and spreading of water across the valley, was instrumental in helping our ecosystem bloom since time immemorial. Our elders and stories tell us of times when our entire valley consisted of wetlands, marshlands, and swamps—making for an abundance of crops, animals, hunting and fishing grounds, and simply put: a good life.

There is a reason that the Paiute and Shoshone people call the wetlands the Earth’s liver. They provide values that no other ecosystem can, including their ability to naturally purify and improve water quality, provide flood protection and maintain surface water flow during dry periods, recharge groundwater, and provide habitats for fish and wildlife. The restoration and protection of these wetlands throughout the Owens Valley is necessary not only for the indigenous people and the local residents of the valley, but for the entire ecosystem. Indigenous knowledge of wetlands management provides an important basis for natural resource management, which has evolved over several hundred generations of people living on, and managing custodial responsibility for the environment.

Read More on the Story:
Anna Hohag: Record Snowmelt Flowing into the Owens Valley (Indian Country Media Network 4/18)