PECHANGA RESERVATION, Calif. — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers teamed up with other local, state and federal agencies Feb. 28 to share information about flood-fighting resources with its tribal partners throughout Southern California.
Representatives from about a dozen tribal bands attended the Southern California Post-Fire Mitigation, Recovery and Resilience Workshop for Tribes at the Pechanga Reservation near Temecula, California.
Those participating from the Corps included planners, tribal liaisons and emergency management specialists with the Los Angeles and Sacramento districts, as well as from the South Pacific Division.
During the workshop, representatives from the tribal bands participated in discussions with agencies that also included the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, National Weather Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Reclamation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geological Survey, San Diego County Flood Control District and more.
“I am really appreciative for today,” said John Lavallee, emergency operations center specialist with the Cahuilla Band of Indians. “The program was super informative, the engagement has been very, very good, and I’m very happy to be here.”
Lavallee said his goal in attending the workshop was acquiring information and resources, along with building and strengthening partnerships he and his organization can leverage both before and after hazard mitigation.
“For us, mitigation is resilience,” he said. “We want to be more resilient and be a more resilient partner for the other tribes, agencies and jurisdictions around us.”
Lavallee added that one big benefit of the event was having the opportunity to engage with the Corps and the Corps’ partners on a tribal level.
“I hadn’t had an opportunity to do that before, so this is a big deal,” he said. “It ties into some other things that are going on. We spoke with the Bureau of Reclamation earlier, and we got tied into an exercise that they’re going to do.
“I’m also really interested in those partnerships translating into floodplain mapping and floodplain management for us because we don’t yet have a lot of information on that yet,” he added. “It’s a side tie-in from this meeting, but I think it’s going to be beneficial to us.”
Lavallee said that, historically, tribes may have been reluctant or too under-resourced to participate in this type of event, but proactive engagement from the Corps and other agencies has helped alleviate that.
“We’ve seen a lot of really positive engagement from federal and state partners recently that makes us stronger and helps make us a better partner, too,” Lavallee said. “We know what’s out there and what other people are doing. We want to emulate those success stories.”
A CASE STUDY
During the workshop, the LA District’s Emergency Management Branch invited Terri Honani, administrative assistant with the Office of the Chairman of the Hopi Tribe, to talk about her experiences with requesting direct assistance from the Corps in 2022, when flooding and associated sediment deposits from an unusually strong monsoon season overwhelmed communities in Polacca, Arizona.
The district performs flood-response activities under emergency management authority Public Law 84-99, Emergency Response to Natural Disasters, which gives the Corps the authority to provide emergency assistance to local, state and tribal governments before, during and after flooding events.
As part of the assistance, the LA District built several HESCO barriers to protect Hopi tribal homes Dec. 17–22 after the flooding.
“There’s a chapter in there that talks about advance measures, and there’s another chapter that talks about direct-response flood fight,” said David Kingston, chief of the LA District’s Emergency Management Branch. “We actually did both here. Installation of the HESCOs was under ‘Flood Fight.’ That’s why it got done first.”
Honani recalled positive experiences with the assistance the tribe received from the Corps.
“When they said they would get to work, they meant it,” she said. “We didn’t really expect all the help we got. We didn’t know Colonel (Julie) Balten would come out and everything.
“It was a long process, and there was a lot of paperwork, but we were never left in the dark,” she added. “So many people came to our aid, and they were all available to answer our questions and to clarify anything that we didn’t understand. And, they were flexible, too, because there are a lot of cultural sensitivities while working with the tribal nation. They were so flexible and so accommodating for our tribe that we were able to negotiate and get help in the way that we needed help on our reservation.”
As part of the case study presentation, the Emergency Management Branch showed a news video to attendees about the assistance to the Hopi Tribe.
“It was a great partnership between the Hopi Tribe and the Army Corps,” Honani said. “I know the video doesn’t capture everything, but the assistance did have a lot of impact with the relationship we have with the Corps.”
Chris Stanton, lead planner with the LA District, said he anticipates additional workshops, and this was a good test for how to plan and conduct them.
“We’re hoping to have more of these face-to-face interactions, which the tribes really appreciate,” he said. “Anything we can do to get more boots on the ground, so we can really understand these situations and these issues to bring these resources to the tribes is essential to what we want to do.
“We’re bringing in people from all over — different cultures, backgrounds and experiences,” Stanton added. “We just want to make sure we are providing a welcoming, open environment, so folks can share their stories, and we can understand their situations.”
TRIBES PARTICIPATING IN THE WORKSHOP
Tribal representation at the workshop included the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians, Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, Cahuilla Band of Indians, Pechanga Band of Indians, Pala Band of Mission Indians, Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, the Mesa Grande Band of Diegueno Mission Indians of the Mesa Grande Reservation, the Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation, along with a guest speaker from the Hopi Tribe.