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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Central Valley | Environment & Forest Defense | Government & Elections
Westlands Water District growers try to buy November elections
Advocates for the restoration of California’s struggling salmon and other fish populations note that Westland’s political action committee is not a charity. It invests in those who support its agenda – and expects a return on investment.
Aerial photo of the Sacramento River northeast of Rio Vista courtesy of the Department of Water Resources. Westlands Water District and other corporate agribusiness are pushing for the construction of twin tunnels to divert massive amounts of Sacramento River water to irrigate drainage-impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
Westlands Water District growers try to buy November elections
by Dan Bacher
Growers in the politically powerful Westlands Water District have contributed thousands of dollars in order to influence the outcome of California elections, ranging from Congressional races in Districts 3 and 9 to Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 campaign.
A Westlands grower has also posed as a "California family farmer" in TV ads blasting Proposition 37, the Consumers "Right to Know" Initiative that requires the labeling of genetically modified food.
A review of Federal Election Commission records has exposed an effort by Westlands to replace the two pro-Delta Representatives, John Garamendi and Jerry McNerney, with two candidates more aligned with their effort to drain the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. (http://www.elkgrovenews.net/2012/10/westlands-dumps-thousands-into.html)
Congressional candidates Kim Vann and Ricky Gill have taken tens of thousands of dollars from the California Westside Farmers PAC and from individual Westlands board members and prominent growers, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Westlands Water District is known for its relentless efforts over the years to stop the restoration of salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt and other fish species on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, its unsuccessful legal campaign to block Trinity River restoration and its current campaign to build the peripheral tunnels.
Westlands growers, their PACs, and their associated growing associations have given at least $35,000 to Congressional Candidate Kim Vann, who is running in California District 3 against incumbent Congressman John Garamendi. (http://www.garamendi.org/sites/default/files/Preview%20of%20³Schedule%20A%20for%20ALL%20Line%20%23%27s².pdf)
In the California Congressional District 9 race, Westlands, their associated growers associations, and Westlands Board Members have contributed over $14,000 to Congressional Candidate Ricky Gill.
Delta and salmon advocates believe that Westlands funding of Vann’s and Gill’s campaigns represents a blatant attempt to replace Delta Congressional representatives who have opposed Westlands’ Peripheral Tunnels plan with officeholders who’d be more compliant with Westlands’ plans to increase water exports to their drainage-impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
“We hear about special interests trying to buy the political process,” said Dr. Mark Rockwell, California state representative of the Endangered Species Coalition and member of the Northern California Council, Federation of Fly Fishers. “We don't realize that it is happening very close to home. West San Joaquin valley farm interests want more water, and that water must come from the S.F. Bay-Delta, and they know it.”
“They also know that Representatives McNerney and Garamendi stand for protection of Delta communities and Delta farmers, not west San Joaquin farm interests,” said Rockwell. “Their money given to Vann and Gill is done only to ‘buy’their votes to ship water past the Delta, destroying water quality for Delta farmers and communities, and also driving Delta fish species like salmon toward extinction.”
Garamendi and McNerney ask for cost-benefit of peripheral tunnel plan
On July 25, 2012, Congressman Garamendi stood on the steps of the Capitol with hundreds of Delta farmers, fishermen, members of the Winnemem Wintu, Pit River and Hoopa Valley Tribes and environmentalists to publically express his opposition to Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to build the peripheral tunnels.
"Today I flew back to California to make it clear to state and federal lawmakers where I stand: the 9,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) conveyance facility being proposed could wreak havoc on the Delta and the jobs it sustains and put existing water rights in the Delta and Northern California at risk," said Garamendi.
Congressmen McNerney and Garamendi have co-sponsored a HR 6484, a bill calling for a cost benefit analysis of the proposed tunnel project to be completed by the federal government.
“Not only would a canal destroy the vital estuary that we depend on, it could place an insurmountable burden on users to pay for a plan that was flawed to begin with, setting our state water policy back decades. We will continue to demand a seat at the table and to have a voice in the process,” said McNerney.
The same west side growers lobbied heavily against a similar bill authored by Bill Berryhill (R-Modesto) that stalled in the California Assembly during the last California legislative session.
Advocates for the restoration of California’s struggling salmon and other fish populations note that Westland’s political action committee is not a charity. It invests in those who support its agenda – and expects a return on investment. They are trying to weaken the Delta’s voice in Congress on fair water policy.
Westlands Water District growers have benefitted for years from federally subsidized Delta water exports. Now, they are using the profits they have obtained from subsidized water, at tremendous expense to the taxpayers and the environment, to muscle political influence to secure future water supplies.
The peripheral tunnels would deal the final death blow to the Delta’s $5 billion annual agriculture economy, the region’s $650,000,000 recreation economy, and to Delta fisheries, according to Delta and salmon advocates. If built, the peripheral tunnels would hasten the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River chinook salmon, green sturgeon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail and numerous other fish species.
Record amounts of water were exported out of the Delta pumps in 2011 to irrigate land farmed by Westlands and other west side agribusiness interests, including Stewart Resnick's Paramount Farms in Kern County. The massive diversions resulted in the “salvage” of over 11 million fish, including a record 9 million native Sacramento splittail. (http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/05/07/carnage-in-the-pumps)
Delta and salmon advocates believe that regardless of political affiliation, Delta area voters should be outraged that Westlands Water District leaders are trying to buy influence in the Delta to stop the work of two Congressional Representatives, John Garamendi and Jerry McNerney, who have been strong advocates against Westlands’ scheme to build two fish-killing peripheral tunnels.
Westlands grower serves as spokesman against Proposition 37
The two Congressional campaigns are not the only one that Westlands growers are involved with in the November election.
Ted Sheely, a Westlands Water District grower and past member of the Westlands Board of Directors who grows genetically engineered cotton in the San Joaquin Valley on his 8,700-acre farm in Kings County, is prominently featured in TV ads against against Proposition 37 ((http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_SXVfJeHyE).
Proposition 37, the "Right to Know" proposition, is a November 2012 ballot measure that requires the labeling of genetically engineered food in California.
"It's going to put the California farmer at a disadvantage with the other 49 states," claims Sheely. "The people that are least able to pay are going to be forced to pay more. Please join California farmers in voting No on Prop 37."
What the ad doesn't tell you is that Sheely is a Westlands Water District grower and past member of the Westlands Board of Directors who grows genetically engineered cotton in the San Joaquin Valley on his 8,700-acre farm in Kings County.
"At least we suspect it’s genetically engineered cotton," said Tom Fendley of the Yes on Proposition 37 Campaign. "Food companies aren't required to tell us, even if it winds up in our food as cottonseed oil."
Then the Fresno Bee revealed on October 23 that five top officials in the Westlands Water District, all Republicans, on October 20 collectively donated more than $50,000 to support Proposition 30, Governor Jerry Brown's tax measure on the Nov. 6 ballot. (http://www.fresnobee.com/2012/10/23/3040356/westlands-officials-donate-50000.html?storylink=lingospot#storylink=cpy)
Giving money to Prop. 30, however, puts the Westlands officials squarely in line with such organizations as the state Democratic Party, the California Teachers Association and the Service Employees International Union, as well as on the opposite side from the state Republican Party, which opposes it," the Bee noted.
Delta advocates believe that the contribution is designed as "insurance" that Brown follows through with his controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels to export massive amounts of water to Westlands and other corporate agribusiness interests.
There is no doubt that Westlands growers are doing everything they can to buy the November elections in California.