By John Herrick, South Delta Water Agency
Joan Buchanan, Restore the Delta
and Bill Jennings, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance
The Record (Stockton)
Sunday, May. 29, 2016
As residents and long-time defenders of the Delta, we were disappointed by Rep. John Garamendi’s op-ed “No twin tunnels; But legislation would help temper many concerns.” (The Record, May 25)
There is a reason no members of Congress from Northern California have supported this bill and why members from Oregon and Washington also oppose it. We believe it is ultimately bad for the Delta. Though the bill, of course, has some good aspects, its purpose is to pump more water out of the Delta. Period.
Read full op-ed
How do we share California water, a diminishing resource?
EDITORIAL: San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Congressional battles over California water have intensified, unleashing a surge of mostly divisive and ill-advised federal legislation. On Friday, presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump even dived into the fray at his Fresno rally when he declared, “There is no drought,” accusing state water officials of denying water to farmers to save a 3-inch fish. None of this will help California’s ongoing water concerns.
If anything, these efforts threaten to derail what progress the state has made toward establishing rational rules to share a diminishing resource in a warming world. The state’s Water Action Plan has set out broad priorities for water use and is letting local water interests take up the hard and necessary work of hammering out rational, reasonable water rules. What’s needed now is a statewide commitment to allocate — up front — water for the environment. Fish (and birds and wildlife and the land itself) as well as cities and farmers need a seat at the water bargaining table.
When Australia endured a decade long drought, political leaders allocated 50 percent of the continent’s water to the environment. That needs to happen here. California and Australia share an arid climate and a culture shaped by ranching and a mining boom. But where California and the rest of the American West developed an ethos of rugged individualism and individual property rights, the Aussies pegged survival on sharing resources. Nothing better explains the differences in Australian water policy from ours, said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Board, the agency shaping the rules that will assure Californians a secure water future.
But share we must. Those new rules will require new thinking, new approaches and new flexibility — which means we need to figure out what we can afford from our water budget. The budget needs to serve everyone’s interest rather than individual districts demanding water under a wide array of state and federal laws. We can’t manage our water supply by Environmental Species Act dictates alone, and we can’t have local agencies using Congress to foot statewide decisions and change the laws to take water from the environment and struggling West Coast salmon runs. Otherwise, we risk harming the land that supports us.
Sorting out California’s maze of conflicting, overlapping and sometimes legally questionable water rights will take years, if not generations. But that work is under way. In some instances, it may be faster, cheaper and better to simply buy water rights for the environment — either permanently or on a long-term lease. The state water bond included $200 million for “enhanced stream flow,” which could include fallowing land or restoring habitat or acquiring water rights outright. This approach is a first for California. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is using a pilot-project approach to see what works. By the beginning of this year, it had approved $22 million for 24 projects. Now it is gearing up to review the second year’s grant proposals.
That’s why the congressional activities of the past week seeking to divert more water from Northern California are so disturbing. House Republicans attached one bill, HR2898, introduced by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford (Kings County), whose passage had stalled, to an unrelated Senate-approved $37.4 billion must-pass energy measure when that bill reached the House floor. The Valadao bill orders more pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farms south of the delta, shrinks a salmon-habitat restoration program and prohibits using federal money to enhance flows for the environment in severely drought-stricken water basins. The Obama administration opposes the sections attached to the energy bill, saying they preempt California water law and state and federal environmental law.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had offered an alternative, S2533, as drought relief that has a good chance of becoming law. That’s dispiriting too, because it contains some of the worst parts of the Valadao bill.
Congress has no business trying to allocate our water and run our pumps from Washington.