The California State Water Resources Control Board is proposing to issue direction to its staff to develop a statewide class of beneficial uses pertaining to tribal traditional and cultural subsistence fishing and other subsistence fishing as beneficial uses pursuant to the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act. The Water Board’s current list of beneficial uses of water in California, which was established in 1996, does not contain an explicit beneficial use for tribal traditional, cultural or subsistence fishing. The Water Board has recognized the importance of identifying and describing beneficial uses unique to California Native American tribes in addition to subsistence fishing by other cultures or individuals. Currently, the Water Board is developing an amendment to one of its water quality control plans pertaining to the consumption of fish, particularly related to mercury contamination. Mercury contamination in California streams is a result of legacy gold-mining activities starting in the mid-1800s. Mercury was used to separate gold out from ore during the gold-mining process.
Tribal subsistence fishing tends to focus on salmon and steelhead. Streams in California are typically already designated with cold water for anadromous fish as a beneficial use. Whether this designation will result in any significant change to water operations is unknown, but it is unlikely.