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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Central Valley | Environment & Forest Defense | Government & Elections
Delta advocates oppose Senator Feinstein's bailout for agribusiness bill
"It is disappointing that Senator Feinstein is not standing up for the economic engine of the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary, its water quality and native species that serve not only California's economic engine but Oregon and Washington as well," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta.
Photo of Caleen Sisk, Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, opening a water conference in Fresno on May 10 by Dan Bacher.
Delta advocates oppose Senator Feinstein's bailout for agribusiness bill
by Dan Bacher
Senator Dianne Feinstein is sponsoring a emergency drought relief bill, S 2918, that will enable more Delta water to be exported to corporate agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley during the current drought.
In a statement in April, Feinstein portrayed the legislation as a necessary measure to alleviate harm to the agricultural economy during a drought.
“More than 800,000 acres of California farmland will likely be fallowed," Feinstein claimed. "California’s economy faces a $7.5 billion hit. More than 15,000 jobs related to the agriculture industry are at risk. Food prices across the country will increase. This is an emergency, and this bill deserves a vote." (http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2014/4/feinstein-statement-on-drought-legislation)
On the other hand, Restore the Delta (RTD), opponents of Governor Jerry Brown's Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels, on May 16 issued a strongly-worded statement criticizing Senator Feinstein for pushing S 2918 "to allow more water to be exported for Westlands' and Kern Water Districts' mega-growers in the midst of a severe drought."
The group criticized Feinstein's bill for posing a grave threat to Central Valley salmon and other fish populations and wildlife refuges.
"It is disappointing that Senator Feinstein has chosen to rush harmful legislation with no public hearings, debate or scrutiny, so that industrial growers who have planted tens of thousands of acres of almonds and other permanent crops in the midst of the past several very dry years," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. "Sen. Feinstein is using every tactic she can to aid these growers at the expense of the rest of California. There's a better solutions, despite Sen. Feinstein's statement that she has received no useful input on alternatives. She has received the input, but has ignored it."
"Sen. Dianne Feinstein is rushing legislation through Congress that uses the current drought to make changes that undo critical protections for our salmon and other fisheries, and the people who rely on our river system. While it makes sense to take prudent steps to address the drought, it is unwise to use the current lack of water to do the bidding of mega-growers who want more and more water for permanent crops on unsuitable lands. That's who gets most of the water in our public projects: huge industrial farming operations in the Westlands and Kern Water Districts. Sen. Feinstein is responding to the urging of these growers, many of whom have contributed mightily to her campaigns," said Barrigan-Parrilla.
"It is disappointing that Senator Feinstein is not standing up for the economic engine of the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary, its water quality and native species that serve not only California's economic engine but Oregon and Washington as well," said Barrigan-Parrilla. "Instead of calling for every available bucket of water to be shipped immediately to unsustainable industrial agriculture, Sen. Feinstein should instead be pursuing water demand reduction actions, plus reinforcement of Delta levees, improvement of south Delta fish screens and salvage operations, elimination of harmful water transfers through the Delta, and numerous fish protections, preclude the need for the BDCP twin tunnels."
S 2918 is harmful to salmon migration, since it would lock in a 1:1 ratio of San Joaquin-San Francisco Bay Delta water inflow to water exports, according to Restore the Delta. This permits exporting water that can be diverted by massive pumps in April and May, and affects the San Joaquin River's flow at a critical time when salmon and steelhead are migrating down the river to the ocean.
In an extremely dry year like this one, existing protections allow the pumps to divert all of the water flowing down the San Joaquin River (a 1:1 ratio of inflow to exports). However, as hydrology improves, the ratio increases to better protect migrating salmon from being pulled into the pumps, according to the group.
Sen. Feinstein's bill locks in this high 1:1 export ratio that is very harmful to salmonids. S 2918 could allow those exports to continue despite a significant increase in precipitation, either this year or in future years as long as the Governor's drought declaration is in effect. She said this provision should be changed to allow the ratio to change depending on real-time water availability.
S 2918 weakens protections for salmon and regulates the flow rate at which Old and Middle Rivers, two channels of the San Joaquin River that feed the Bay-Delta, can be made to flow in the reverse of their natural direction by the operation of the federal and state pumps that export water south. Those pumps redirect the flow of the Delta and pull millions of salmon and other fish to their deaths each year.
Between 2000 and 2011, more than 130 million fish were 'salvaged' at the State and Federal Project water export facilities in the South Delta, according to a white paper published by Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, on March 7, 2013. Actual losses are far higher. For example, recent estimates indicate that 5-10 times more fish are lost than are salvaged, largely due to the high predation losses in and around water project facilities.
"This section restricts reverse flows to levels prescribed in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) biological opinion for delta smelt without mentioning the stricter limits on reverse flows at certain times prescribed by the courts biological opinions for salmon and other native Bay-Delta species. As currently drafted, this section will be read as adopting only the weaker reverse flow limits in the Delta smelt biological opinion. Existing ESA law and provisions contained in the biological opinions protecting salmon in the Bay-Delta ecosystem for Old and Middle Rivers must be enforced," she said.
She also pointed out that S 2918 threatens National Wildlife Refuge water quality and supplies - and said S 2918 should ensure that existing law is followed.
"The bill merges discussions of groundwater and new water purchases into one single sentence, and does not ensure our National Wildlife refuges will receive non-polluted water supplies, potentially creating a conflict with existing law and reducing essential supplies to protect the last remaining National Wildlife Refuge water supplies," she stated.
She also said the precedent of managing droughts through Congressional intervention sets a dangerous precedent. "It sets the stage for any of the 17 western states that suffer significant droughts to use political access to alter long-term state and federal processes designed to implement shortage rules," said Barrigan-Parrilla.
"It's been said that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, meaning that public fear can be used to jam through public policy changes that otherwise lack support. Sen. Feinstein's bill accepts that in dry times it's fish vs. farms, and she sacrifices our fisheries to favor huge desert farms growing almonds and pistachios for export," she said.
"Restore the Delta believes that the decline of our fisheries is an indicator of how poorly the State and Federal governments are managing our water resources and subsidized water projects. It's not fish vs. farms, but all the rest of us versus the few huge agricultural operations on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley who have an insatiable appetite for more and more water for unsustainable growing operations. Unfortunately, they also have bottomless political contribution funds that draw the attention of politicians, even when our overwhelming best interest is to change course and adopt sustainable water policies," Barrigan-Parrilla concluded.
Feinstein is pushing the dangerous legislation as Jerry Brown, one of the worst Governors for fish, water and the environment in California history, is fast-tracking the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels. The same agribusiness interests advocating for Feinstein's legislation are the same ones promoting the construction of the tunnels.
The project, estimated to cost up to $67 billion, would hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species, as well as imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Klamath and Trinity rivers.
The construction of the peripheral tunnels is designed in conjunction with the federal plan to raise Shasta Dam by 18-1/2 feet. The tunnels will divert Sacramento River water for use by corporate agribusiness interests, oil companies conducting fracking and steam injection operations, and Southern California water agencies.
The dam raise will flood many of the remaining sacred sites of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, including Puberty Rock. The dam raise and construction of the tunnels will also result in the extinction of Central Valley Chinook salmon and other fish that are sacred to indigenous cultures.
Caleen Sisk, Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, said, "One might ponder the thought that flooding cultural sites of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe is beyond 'racism'…it might be called 'Cultural Genocide'! How many Winnemem Wintu are expected to survive the flooding of sacred sites supporting the traditions and cultural customs a second time! As it stands now, the lands were stolen from the Winnemem Wintu, as the 1941 Act of Congress still waits to be fulfilled!"
She reiterated the danger that the peripheral tunnels pose to California's fish, people and rivers.
"The common people will pay for the peripheral tunnels and a few people will make millions," emphasized Sisk. "It will turn a once pristine water way into a sewer pipe. It will be all bad for the fish, the ocean and the people of California."
Restore the Delta is a 15,000-member grassroots organization committed to making the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable to benefit all of California. Restore the Delta works to improve water quality so that fisheries and farming can thrive together again in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. For more information, go to: http://www.restorethedelta.org