FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, May 16, 2014
Contact: Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546; [email protected]; Twitter: @shopcraft; @MrSandHillCrane; Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla 209/479-2053 [email protected]; Twitter: @RestoretheDelta
Bill Could Help Tunnels Approval
Offer Better Solutions to Water Challenge
Stockton, CA- Restore the Delta (RTD), opponents of Gov. Brown’s rush to build Peripheral Tunnels that would drain the Delta and doom salmon and other Pacific fisheries, today criticized Senator Dianne Feinstein for pushing S 2918 to allow more water for Westlands’ and Kern Water Districts’ mega-growers in the midst of a severe drought. “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 solution, 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.
“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. It would lock in a 1:1 ratio of San Joaquin-San Francisco Bay Delta water inflow to water exports. 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. 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. 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. 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.
S 2918 threatens National Wildlife Refuge water quality and supplies. 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.
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.
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. 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.