Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Large Agribusiness Threatens States Rights, West Coast Fisheries


By Dr. Mark Rockwell
California Representative
Endangered Species Coalition

California Bay Delta
This week Congress is voting on a dangerous bill that would turn upside down 150 years of Western water law. House Resolution 1837 (HR 1837), the so-called San Joaquin Water Reliability Act, removes all environmental protections for the Delta and Central Valley rivers of California and allows destructive exports of water from California’s beleaguered Bay-Delta to politically connected San Joaquin Valley farmers.

If enacted, H.R. 1837 would set an unprecedented standard of state preemption, environmental disregard, and the privatization of a public resource for the benefit of a select few.  It would prohibit California from adhering to its own water code and State Constitution when managing its water resources (Section 108(b)).  Additionally, it would deem that all requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would be met through a 1994 Bay Delta Accord agreement, ignoring the last fifteen years of science demonstrating the negative effects of this accord on fisheries. (Section 108).

Chinook Salmon courtesy FWS.gov
Of great importance here is that this law is not limited to only California. All states are open to the precedent established in this bill.  Hence, several states have filed letters of opposition to HR 1837 - Oregon, Wyoming, Colorado and California.  Hundreds of letters have been filed with the House of Representatives asking them to vote against this bill.  This is simply a bad bill - for states rights, for environmental quality, for privately negotiated local agreements on water.  

California is a state with nearly 38 million citizens, 2/3 of which live in the southern 1/3 of the state.  Water has historically been the center of controversy since William Mulholland dried up the Owens valley in the eastern Sierra and shipped the water to Los Angeles in the early 1900s.  this started what has been known since as the “California Water Wars.”

In recent years because of increasing water demands south of the state capital in Sacramento, the central California Bay-Delta, the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas, has been under siege.  Fish and other wildlife have all declined in population, and many have been placed on the state and federation Endangered Species Lists.  Since 2001 the efforts to save the Bay-Delta fish and wildlife has been pitted against large economic interests in other areas of the state.  Seemingly forgotten are the tens of thousands of lost jobs in the north state due to closures of both the recreational and commercial salmon fishing industries in 2008 and 2009, and minimal openings in 2010.

California Bay Delta
During this time California was in a 3 year drought, and suffering from the global economic collapse.   Unemployment was high throughout the state, including the central valley farming regions.  Some large farmers in the San Joaquin valley started blaming the water cutbacks to protect fish as the reason they were not able to farm, forgetting the drought or economic problems.  A report from the Economic Forecast Center at the University of the Pacific clearly states:  We estimate the San Joaquin Valley has lost 8,500 jobs from reduced water exports in 2009 with roughly 2,000 of these attributable to the endangered Delta Smelt, and the rest to the natural drought.” 

In June, 2011 House members Nunes, McCarthy and Denham introduced HR 1837, a bill that would undermine more than 100 years of California water lawThis legislation repeals existing law regarding the use of water from the Bay-Delta and its tributaries,  and reallocates that water in a way that elevates agricultural uses above all other water needs, including cities, fisheries and environmental uses.

In reality this is a huge water grab by economically advantaged large agribusiness landowners and developers in the southern parts of the state.  Proponents try to ride the emotions around job loss and family farms, and blame all the problems in the valley on government regulations.  Facts are hard to avoid, however, and while helping themselves to public trust water, they risk further destruction to the salmon fishery that has supported thousands of fishing families and coastal communities since the 1800s.  Data shows that 23,000 jobs were lost in 2008 and 2009 in the fishing industry, and a loss of $1.4 billion each year to California’s economy.  These are all truly “family” business, and many are gone today because they could not weather the closures resulting from impacts from mismanagement of the Bay-Delta.

If we are really concerned about the economy and jobs, there is much more to be gained by recovering the Bay-Delta through cutbacks in water diversions.  Families are important.  Fish and wildlife are important.  Our children and grandchildren will benefit from a restored Bay-Delta, its fisheries and its wildlife.  California is a great place because we have such fish and wildlife diversity.  We need to protect it for future generations.  Its part of what makes California a great place to live.

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