Taking Back the Eel River

Recorded: September 8, 2013

Nadananda listens for spiritual guidance every day, and pays attention to messages. One day she heard that the Eel River was dead and the news unexpectedly cut her to the core. She decided to get involved in a big way. Nadananda, tells her story about founding Friends of the Eel River and her inspiration to wage a battle to protect water resources for fish and wildlife.

Patricia Hamilton, whose spiritual name is Nadananda, founded the Friends of the Eel River in 1995.  The Eel River is located in Northern California.  Flows from the Eel have been diverted as a source of low-cost irrigation water for Russian River basin agriculture, particularly the lucrative wine grape industry. Under Nadananda’s leadership, Friends of the Eel River has seen increased flows returned to the Eel due to a series of actions that led to partial victories before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the California State Water Resources Control Board (WRCB).

Two of Nadananda’s lifelong passions, art and spiritual work, came together in her work for the Eel River. She founded and edited, the Eel River Reporter, a magazine. Additionally, she has worked with traditional dancers and spiritual leaders of the many Native American people who are maintaining and reviving traditional cultural relationships with the Eel and the fish and wildlife it supports. If you want to know more about the Eel River history, click on this link to a story by Nadananda:



Nadananda:    It’s really profound, this thing of just getting up out of the seat and taking a stand.

[Music over Background narrative on Eel River]

Huey Johnson:    I would love to focus on the Russian River, when you noticed it.

Nadananda:    On the Russian River and the Eel River?

Huey Johnson:    Eel River I mean.

Nadananda:    They are married, aren’t they?  I had heard Fish and Game doing what we call a dog-and-pony show at the Redway School in Southern Humboldt.  It happened to be the first night I got a little portable radio. I had been living in the back hills there for months meditating, playing Tibetan bells and bowls, just doing beading and artwork and stuff like that and not really being involved with community at all, very isolated.  So I was quite shocked when I heard this — the first night, mind you — and I laughed because I’ve learned to pay attention to what happens in life; experiences you have as a guide, a very profound kind of guide.  And they were talking about how the Eel River was dead. And I tell you, it hit me so viscerally.  It was such an emotional impact, I was quite surprised.  I had no idea what it all meant. I couldn’t even have defined what a watershed was, but I knew it wasn’t a building in the backyard.  So it was a straight-up learning curve for me, literally, and it took all my time and thought, but it was fascinating.

Huey Johnson:    You have separate… the Klamath, with its fishery population and Sacramento with its, and we ignore the Eel as though it didn’t have one.

Nadananda:    Totally ignored it.  And the Potter Valley Project cuts off not only, I think a good thousand miles of prime spawning and rearing habitat, but it interfered with the way the natural systems worked, where the cold water from up in that area would go down the entire Eel River system cooling it, and having the nutrients that are necessary, it interfered with the way fish moved up and down that system and it was ripe for the pike minnow, which is a predator fish and devastating on the system there.  You know, people asked me on the Eel River if I really think we can win. I realized almost immediately that we were winning, but not winning in the way that people usually think.  It was all the side stuff that was happening, getting people’s interest, that was a huge win.  We were able to keep the Sonoma County Water Agency from locking down the Potter Valley Project forever.  They were trying to get legislation through, that it would become a situation that they could take over.  It’s a big fight.  The fight’s getting bigger.  We’re getting closer to when the federal hearings will be, so it’s really picking up.

Huey Johnson:    How important is the energy that it gets from this water transfer to its existence?  I mean, does it supply the city of… someplace or other? Any idea?

Nadananda:    Huey, it’s not the power that is important here, it’s very small.  But what is important is the political and the —

Huey Johnson:    to satisfy the families that benefit from it.

Nadananda:    To satisfy, not the families but the companies.  You know the wine industry in Sonoma and Mendocino is no longer mom and pop, although it’s advertised and presented that way.  They’re now all owned by national and international corporations.  And it is that campaign money that they donate that allows the water to continue.  So it is deeply embedded in California politics.

It is just astonishing, the level of corruption that has gone on.  That’s the only reason that the PG&E project continues to this day.  It comes up for relicensing in 2022.  The process starts a good 5 years ahead of time; so by 2017 we should be in full-blown movement with it, but it has really already started–fact finding, computer modeling being done.  We’re doing that.  We’ve hired geologists and hydrologists and biologists that are working with us.  We’re looking at the damage, how it was done, and how to correct it. And this kind of an effort is going to take a lot of people.  It’s the people standing up, the people taking a stand, making their voices heard. That is what will win the fight.