Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A meeting at the Department of the Interior

For those who didn’t already know – the lines in the ongoing water debate are now clearly drawn.  Earlier today, I attended a meeting at the Department of Interior.  Those in attendance were a virtual ‘whose who’ in the leftist environmental movement.  Included among them was the water czar himself, David Hayes, as well as his patron, Bay Area Congressman George Miller.

At this meeting, Secretary Salazar again denied the existence of a man-made drought in California (click here to hear the Secretary).  Flanked by George Miller, Dianne Feinstein and a host of liberal lawmakers, the Secretary dismissed the need for immediate relief in our region and reiterated tired arguments about the complex nature of California water policy.  In other words – expect more lip service but no help from Washington. 

During my brief remarks (click here), I told the Secretary in no uncertain terms that he and the Democrats in Congress were waging war against the people of the San Joaquin.  They have rejected seven separate efforts in the House and one in the Senate – each of which would have provided temporary relief to our region. 

Earlier this year, the Delta pumps were turned off and hundreds of acres of farmland became desert – all because of a three inch minnow.  While those pumps are running today, they will soon be shut down again.  Congress must pass a temporary measure to protect our water supply.  Only after this can we move forward in search of larger solutions. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Honesty is needed in water debate, not intimidation

Last week, I worked with Senator Jim DeMint (South Carolina) to move an amendment that would have temporarily restored water deliveries in California. The Senate defeated the effort with California’s Senators leading the opposition. Since that time, there has been a lot of discussion about the vote – including a dishonest campaign that must be challenged.

Firstly, the notion that the DeMint amendment was tantamount to Pearl Harbor – that it was a sneak attack – is pure fiction. Senator DeMint approached Senator Feinstein at 12:20 pm on the day in question and provided her the language of his amendment (see video). This gave Feinstein and her advisors approximately six hours to read the amendment’s ten lines of text before the vote.

Secondly, it is not possible for anyone who claims to be involved in California water policy to be ignorant as to the needs of our rural communities and farms. Put simply, they need water. This requires a temporary restoration of normal pumping operations so that water can be delivered when it is needed. I have been calling for action in this regard for two years, have participated in numerous debates, and forced votes in the House on seven occasions.

Furthermore, organizations associated with agriculture from throughout California have pressed for immediate relief from the man-made drought. They have done so publically and they have done so privately with their Congressional delegation. These requests have been reported by the national media – including an hour long broadcast on the Hannity program.

Yet, despite these facts the Senator and her allies are today exerting pressure on California agriculture interests. Instead of working to provide California immediate relief, the Senator is trying to convince the people of our state that we need more studies and deliberation. Unfortunately, in the past “study” has been code for inaction or worse – additional water takings.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Where the water goes

Unfortunately, there have been a number of inaccurate and misleading statements over the past few weeks on the man-made drought in the San Joaquin Valley.  For example, there have been allegations that agriculture is the using too much Delta water.  The image that I have uploaded shows water distributions.

Some have also mentioned the story of a “farmer” selling his water for $77 million, claiming this is the problem – not the environmental restrictions.  It was a Bay Area businessman that sold the water.  He sold 14,000 acre feet of water for the next ten years at $5,500 an acre foot.  The water is going to the Mojave Irrigation District for groundwater banking.  It can be frustrating to see water sold from of the Valley at this time.  But this sale pales in comparison to the environmental losses we have seen just this year. "Protecting" the Delta smelt has blocked over 600,000 acre feet of water from being delivered.  Starting October 1, 2009, another 250,000 acre feet will be released from Friant Dam to bring salmon back and won't happen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

California farmers again denied water. This time by Senators Feinstein and Boxer.

This evening, Senate Democrats – led by Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer – defeated a California water amendment offered by South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint.
The amendment was simple.  It would have prevented the federal government from spending any money to implement biological decisions that are denying Californians access to essential water supplies from the Delta.  This prohibition would have lasted one year. 
Despite the clear suffering of people in California, my state's senior Senator blocked passage of urgently needed relief.  She even went so far as to compare our efforts to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The defeat of the DeMint amendment today is shameful.  The fact that California's Senators are responsible adds insult to injury.
These two Senators opposed the amendment, despite having voted for a similar provision in 2003.  That provision, related to the silvery minnow, was meant to protect the water supplies of New Mexicans.  It suspended the Endangered Species Act for two years.  In sharp contrast, Senator DeMint’s effort on behalf of Californians was limited to one year.
During the debate, Senator Feinstein eluded to the complex nature of the California water debate.  She expressed dismay that a South Carolina Senator would meddle in California’s affairs and pointed to a $750,000 earmark she is supporting to study the California water crisis.  Senator DeMint countered that the issue was national in scope and that our nation’s food supply was in jeopardy.  He further argued that farmers needed immediate relief.
How can anyone purporting to represent the interests of Californians not know that our state’s farmers and rural communities need immediate relief?  Studies are not the answer.
While infrastructure is urgently needed, including a canal to bypass the Delta, these projects are years from completion and have not even begun despite years of promises.  The only real answer is a temporary waiver to the ESA or some other provision, such as the one before the Senate today, which restores the flow of water until alternatives are realized.  Californians should be very disappointed in the outcome today.  But they should be reassured that some in Congress are working on their behalf – including the Senator from South Carolina.

Friday, September 18, 2009

There they go again

Yesterday the Department of Interior released a document in an attempt to confuse the water issue. I find it unbelievable that Interior denies a man-made drought exists! They defend the biological decisions that have devastated our region and make no secret of their belief that our water shortages are not their problem. Check out the document here.

I do agree with Interior in one respect: we are experiencing a drought. But the drought devastating the San Joaquin is not the fault of Mother Nature or global warming. It is a man-made.

The Northern Sierra’s precipitation (where Delta water comes from) has reached 95% of average and many of the reservoirs responsible for delivering our water were forced to spill as they became full. Overall, statewide precipitation is 81% of normal (see for yourself here).

California is naturally arid. Significant portions of our population centers were desert-like before water delivery systems were built. Once Democrats and Republicans worked together to create the world’s largest water storage and conveyance system. But no longer. Radical environmentalists who control the Democrat Party have forced on us a water shortage that is unique to the developed world: a government imposed drought that you would see in a dictatorship like Zimbabwe. If they win this battle in California, no one in our country is safe.

Sean Hannity yesterday

Thank you to those who attended the Sean Hannity broadcast on the Fox News Channel yesterday. Your participation showed the nation that we are united against the cruel actions of our government. The national attention Sean is bringing to our man-made drought will be enormously helpful as we fight to restore the flow of water to our valley.

If you missed Sean, you can watch the broadcast in three parts on my You Tube channel by clicking here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sean Hannity in the San Joaquin Valley

On Thursday, September 17, 2009, Sean Hannity will visit the San Joaquin Valley for a live broadcast. He will devote his entire program to the water crisis facing our state.

It is important to give Sean a warm welcome and to thank him for his vigilant efforts to increase national awareness of the man-made drought.

Details about the broadcast are below:

What: LIVE broadcast of the Sean Hannity Show
When: Thursday, September 17th, 2009
Time: Please arrive by 5:00 pm
Where: A fallowed field on the Westside in Fresno County
Directions: Located on the south side of Highway 198, to the west of the Fresno/Kings County line. The field is exactly 8 miles west of Lemoore Naval Air Station. The field is marked with a speed limit sign and a white wrought iron gate. The area will also be clearly marked with signs and banners.

In addition to the Hannity broadcast next week, I would like to call your attention to several editorial responses recently published by The Wall Street Journal. These responses (see below) relate to the Journal’s coverage of the water crisis as well as my recent editorial. They were written by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Environmental Defense Fund Regional Director Laura Harnish and highlight the challenges we face by exposing the people who are working to prevent a meaningful resolution.

It is noteworthy that Secretary Salazar again denies a man-made drought exists and Ms. Harnish believes that the root of the problem is that farmers don’t pay enough for water.

From The Wall Street Journal
Central Valley Water: Nor Any Drop for Plants to Drink

Your editorial "California's Man-Made Drought" (Sept. 2) about the severe drought and water crisis in California argues that California's water problems could be wished away if our nation were only willing to sacrifice an endangered three-inch fish, turn on a few pumps to move water from Northern California to the Central Valley, and wave a magic wand. The trouble is: The fish are a sliver of the problem, the pumps are already on, and pointed fingers can't make it rain.

California's water crisis is far more troubling than your editorial suggests. The state is in its third year of a devastating drought, caused by a lack of precipitation. In California's Central Valley, where half the nation's produce is grown, many farms and fields are bone dry, unemployment has surged, and the state's inadequate water infrastructure—built 50 years ago for a population half as large—cannot handle the stress. Moreover, California's Bay Delta, upon which 25 million Californians depend for drinking water, is in a state of full environmental collapse.

As a proposed response, your editorial asks the Obama administration to ignore science and convene a so-called "God Squad" that would override protections on watersheds and turn California's water crisis over to the courts. Trying to force more water out of a dying system will only cause more human tragedy, while diverting attention from the governor and the legislature, who face a Sept. 11 legislative deadline to decide whether to fix the broken water system in California after decades of neglect.

Rather than more finger pointing, we need real solutions. After eight years on the sidelines, the federal government has stepped in to help. The Obama administration is investing over $400 million through the president's economic recovery plan to help modernize California's water infrastructure, including over $40 million in emergency assistance to help water-short Central Valley farmers. We have helped move record amounts of water to communities in most need and are taking steps to prepare for a potential fourth year of drought. And perhaps most importantly, the federal government is now engaging as a full partner in the collaborative process that the governor launched two years ago to restore the Bay Delta, and modernize the state's woefully outdated water infrastructure. Though what we need most is rain and snow to fill the reservoirs, these actions will help mitigate the devastating impact of the ongoing drought and deliver help to the families and communities suffering most.

This is the type of locally-driven, solution-oriented, collaborative approach that we must all support—and to which we must all contribute.

Ken Salazar
Secretary of the Interior

It's not about fish, it's about market fairness. In California's water rights system, farmers on one side of the Central Valley pay less than $10 for an acre-foot of water (enough water to cover an acre one-foot deep), while those on the other side are forced to pay up to 60 times more—$600 an acre-foot—to keep trees alive.

What is needed is a new and fair set of market-based rules, created by water stakeholders and California's government, that can spawn new industries and new jobs, while intelligently allocating the state's water to serve agriculture, cities and suburbs, recreational users and nature.

Laura Harnish
Regional Director
Environmental Defense Fund

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

California's Man-Made Drought

California's Man-Made Drought
The green war against San Joaquin Valley farmers

California has a new endangered species on its hands in the San Joaquin Valley—farmers. Thanks to environmental regulations designed to protect the likes of the three-inch long delta smelt, one of America's premier agricultural regions is suffering in a drought made worse by federal regulations.

The state's water emergency is unfolding thanks to the latest mishandling of the Endangered Species Act. Last December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued what is known as a "biological opinion" imposing water reductions on the San Joaquin Valley and environs to safeguard the federally protected hypomesus transpacificus, a.k.a., the delta smelt. As a result, tens of billions of gallons of water from mountains east and north of Sacramento have been channeled away from farmers and into the ocean, leaving hundreds of thousands of acres of arable land fallow or scorched.

For this, Californians can thank the usual environmental suspects, er, lawyers. Last year's government ruling was the result of a 2006 lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other outfits objecting to increased water pumping in the smelt vicinity. In June, things got even dustier when the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded that local salmon and steelhead also needed to be defended from the valley's water pumps. Those additional restrictions will begin to effect pumping operations next year.

The result has already been devastating for the state's farm economy. In the inland areas affected by the court-ordered water restrictions, the jobless rate has hit 14.3%, with some farming towns like Mendota seeing unemployment numbers near 40%. Statewide, the rate reached 11.6% in July, higher than it has been in 30 years. In August, 50 mayors from the San Joaquin Valley signed a letter asking President Obama to observe the impact of the draconian water rules firsthand.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that he "doesn't have the authority to turn on the pumps" that would supply the delta with water, or "otherwise, they would be on." He did, however, have the ability to request intervention from the Department of Interior. Under a provision added to the Endangered Species Act in 1978 after the snail darter fiasco, a panel of seven cabinet officials known as a "God Squad" is able to intercede in economic emergencies, such as the one now parching California farmers. Despite a petition with more than 12,000 signers, Mr. Schwarzenegger has refused that remedy.

The issue now turns to the Obama Administration and the courts, though the farmers have so far found scant hope for relief from the White House. In June, the Administration denied the governor's request to designate California a federal disaster area as a result of the drought conditions, which U.S. Drought Monitor currently lists as a "severe drought" in 43% of the state. Doing so would force the Administration to acknowledge awkward questions about the role its own environmental policies have played in scorching the Earth.

As the crisis has deepened, the political stakes have risen as well. In late August, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack came to the devastated valley to meet with farmers and community leaders. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has pledged to press the issue with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. "There are 30 lawsuits on the biological opinions and two separate opinions, one for the smelt and one for the salmon," Ms. Feinstein said, "The rules need to be reconsidered."

The Pacific Legal Foundation has filed a lawsuit on behalf of three farmers in the valley, calling the federal regulations "immoral and unconstitutional." Because the delta smelt is only found in California, the Foundation says, it does not fall under the regulatory powers provided by the Constitution's Commerce Clause. On a statutory basis, the Fish and Wildlife Service also neglected to appropriately consider the economic devastation the pumping restrictions would bring.

Things in California may have to get so bad that they endanger Democratic Congressional incumbents before Washington wakes up, but it doesn't have to be that way. Mr. Salazar has said that convening the God Squad would be "admitting failure" in the effort to save the smelt under the Endangered Species Act. Maybe so, but the livelihoods of tens of thousands of humans are also at stake. If the Obama Administration wants to help, it can take up Governor Schwarzenegger's request that it revisit the two biological opinions that are hanging farmers and farm workers out to dry.

For the editorial online and reader comments click here.