Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, deemed the nation's most endangered water system

Delta Farmers Excluded from CA Water Discussions

Dan Bacher
4/13/11

For several years, corporate agribusiness Astroturf groups and their political allies have claimed that protections for Central Valley salmon and Delta smelt have caused "massive unemployment" in the San Joaquin Valley.

And nothing changed at an April 11 field hearing in Fresno, Creating Jobs by Overcoming Man-Made Drought: Time for Congress to Listen and Act, at which Representative Tom McClintock (R-Rocklin), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on Water and Power, attempted to make the case that "man-made drought" is the reason behind record unemployment in the Central Valley.

In doing so McClintock echoed the rhetoric of agribusiness Astroturf groups, including the Latino Water Coalition and Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, claiming that Delta pumping restrictions to protect Central Valley chinook salmon, Delta smelt and other imperiled species have created a "New Dust Bowl" that has caused "massive unemployment" in the San Joaquin Valley.

"In this discussion, the left has attempted to pit fishermen against farmers," said McClintock in his opening statement. "What they ignore, of course, is the actual science.... Worst of all they ignore the plight of the tens of thousands of farm families needlessly thrown into unemployment by these policies."

Noting that "people are feeling powerless and disregarded by Washington," McClintock said, "The fact is that the debates inside the Capitol are merely a reflection of a much larger debate going on across the country. The public is rapidly engaging, becoming aware of these past policies and demanding change. As this occurs, public policy will follow."

The hearing took place just days after Delta farmers won a major victory in their battle against the construction of the peripheral canal/tunnel to export more Delta water to corporate agribusiness and southern California. A San Joaquin County Superior Court judge denied the state's request to drill more than 200 feet into private Delta lands in search of the best path for a peripheral canal.

The decision arrived after more than two years of legal battles between landowners and the state Department of Water Resources (DWR). The agency first asked the landowners for access to their properties and then tried to force the matter in court, according to Alex Breitler in the Stockton Record on April 9. In a tentative ruling, Judge John P. Farrell found that the drilling would constitute a "taking" of property under the law.

"This is a very good day for Delta landowners," said Stockton attorney Thomas Keeling, who represented 93 of them. "The DWR's roughshod ride over the backs of the landowners has encountered a major speed bump."

Tribal leaders are also strongly opposed to the construction of the canal, an enormously expensive and environmentally destructive government boondoggle.

As Mark Franco, headman of the Winnemem Wintu (McCloud River) Tribe, stated, “The peripheral canal is a big, stupid idea that doesn’t make any sense from a tribal environmental perspective. Building a canal to save the Delta is like a doctor inserting an arterial bypass from your shoulder to your hand—it will cause your elbow to die just like taking water out of the Delta through a peripheral canal will cause the Delta to die.”

Restore the Delta, a coalition of farmers, environmentalists, fishermen, business leaders and concerned citizens, reminded Central Valley Congressional Leaders at the hearing that they have excluded Delta family farmers, who make up a $3.6 billion economy for California, from discussion and debate on water management practices and said the reality is a far cry from McClintock’ assessment: It is actually Delta family farmers and fishermen, along with California tribes, who have been "disregarded by Washington" and the state.

“To take water from our family farmers, who feed Californians, so that west-side growers can export crops to China, is deeply misguided,” Brett Baker, a sixth-generation pear farmer from Courtland and a Restore the Delta advocate, told McClintock. “To say that moving water from the Delta to Westside growers will help to make more jobs for Californians is wrong. Job losses in the Central Valley have been attributed to the burst in the housing market. Even if West side growers were to receive 120% of their water allocation, it will not make more construction jobs in the Central Valley."

Baker expressed solidarity with fishing families dramatically impacted by the collapse of Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations in recent years, spurred by massive water exports out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. With west-side growers taking as much the water as they want from the Delta, “commercial fishing families will continue to experience extreme hardship as fish numbers plummet, and Delta farmers will be impacted negatively by insufficient water flows," Baker said.

Restore the Delta maintains that federal and state political leaders "are fixated on yesterday’s water plan" as a way to solve today’s water needs. "Yesterday's water plan" includes a massive peripheral canal/tunnel that is likely to result in the extinction of Sacramento River chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other imperiled fish populations.

“In wet years, there is surplus water that can be put back and stored underground for future use by Central Valley growers,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. “Depriving the Delta of the water it needs is not the answer. We cannot solve the Central Valley’s economic woes by destroying Delta communities, Delta agriculture, and Delta fisheries. The Delta is a gem, and sufficient water will bring it back to abundance."

Ironically, California's agricultural earnings, including those from the alleged new dust bowl in the San Joaquin Valley, reached historic highs during the so-called three-year drought. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), California’s cash receipts from crop and livestock sales, in billions of dollars, are as follows: 2009, $34.841; 2008, $38.407; 2007, $36.386; 2006, $31.426; 2005, $32.4; 2004, $30.939; 2003, $28.232; 2002, $26.544; 2001, $26.206, and 2000, $25.185.

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