During the debate in Congress about the government-imposed drought, I have witnessed a lot of misinformation and even downright dishonesty. I have posted a lot of the debate on my YouTube Channel and have discussed this issue at length on this blog. However, I think it is important to address the distortions used against us in a more comprehensive manner. The most common distortions, as well as my responses, are detailed below:
The remaining water, approximately 82 million acre feet, flows into rivers. Of this amount, California dedicates 48% to the environment – the single largest use of water in California. The remaining water is used by agriculture (41%) and cities (11%).
It is important to note that of the water that actually reaches the Delta, 76% is flushed to the ocean for environmental reasons. Bay Area water users, combined with users in Central and Southern California, consume 18% of Delta water. Delta cities and farmers use the remaining 6%.
DISTORTION: The Westside received 80% of the water it needed in 2009. They were even hoarding water from 2008.
FACT: Federal water deliveries were 10% for 2009
There is no "hoarded" water being held by any San Joaquin Valley agency. In 2009, Westlands Water District had hopes that their claim for 270,000 acre feet of water would be honored. However, this water was not guaranteed to be delivered.
Westside farmers were able to offset some lost surface water deliveries by pumping groundwater and negotiating transfers. However, groundwater is an exhaustible resource and transfers are not reliable - both are temporary stopgaps. In addition, groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley is of a much lower quality. Not all crops can be irrigated with groundwater. Despite the best efforts of local farmers and governments to mitigate for lost water, shortages resulted in 500,000 acres of farmland being fallowed. This represents a land mass the size of Rhode Island.
DISTORTION: The pumps are on.
FACT: The pumps are turned off from December through July and do not operate at full capacity the rest of the year thanks to government decisions.
The state and federal water projects were built for year-round operation. Since two-thirds of California's water is located in the north and two-thirds of the population is in the south, it is essential that water deliveries continue year-round.
The entire system of dams and canals composing the state and federal water projects were specifically built for the purpose of balancing wet and dry years.
The San Luis Reservoir, just south of the Delta, is a key component of California's water conveyance infrastructure – holding just over two million acre feet of water. It has no natural streams and is filled by Delta pumping during the fall and winter. It is important to note that water stored at the San Luis Reservoir is used to supply the San Joaquin Valley, as well as Southern California – particularly during periods of significant drought when pumping may be reduced.
In summary, farmers do not make planting decisions in July when they may get water. They make them in the early winter. Farmers have to decide what they are going to plant based on the expected water deliveries for the next year. The farmers then go to their bankers with that information to secure loans to purchase seed, fertilizer, etc. The farmers plant in the early spring and need the water at that time. If you do not have water in the spring, you can't plant. Therefore, water deliveries in July are not enough to save rural communities – there isn't anything to water because the crops were never planted.
Environmental activists cannot dispute that the Delta pumps were shut off between December and July and will be again every year for the foreseeable future unless Congress acts.
DISTORTION: The pumps are the reason the Delta smelt, salmon, and other species are in decline.
FACT: This statement is disputed. Approximately 76% of the water that transits the Delta flows into the ocean.
Do environmentalists really expect us to believe that increasing flows will restore these species? Even NOAA, the federal agency who authored the infamous "killer whale" biological opinion, admitted during Congressional testimony that salmon and other species are impacted more profoundly by ocean conditions.
When the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) was enacted in 1992, environmental flows were increased by 1.2 million acre feet. Since then, biological decisions on the Delta have raised this number to 3.4 million. Meanwhile, none of the threatened or endangered species have recovered. In fact, since CVPIA became law more species have been listed not less. Common sense demands we try something new.
DISTORTION: A drought is to blame for water shortages, not the Endangered Species Act.
FACT: While the past few years have been declared "droughts", Northern Sierra precipitation for 2009 was 93% of average according to the State of California. This is where Delta water originates – the water that serves San Joaquin Valley residents, as well as Californians further south.
Water shortages in central and southern California are not uncommon – both regions are historically dry and can be desert-like. However, the construction of our state and federal water projects allowed reliable water deliveries despite unfavorable natural conditions. This has been true even during catastrophic droughts of our recent past.
Today, we are experiencing a drought that is mild in comparison to many we have already survived. Overall, California's state-wide precipitation for 2009 was 81% of normal. By comparison, during 1977's drought - the driest year in state history - it was 45% of normal and in the 1991 drought - the fifth year of a protracted drought - it was 76%. Indeed, during late-season rain events this year a number of reservoirs associated with the state and federal water projects were forced to spill water as they reached capacity. Massive water flows passed through the Delta but could not be stored in the San Luis Reservoir because the pumps were off.
While new storage and conveyance systems are needed to meet growing needs and to improve reliability of the system, the current crisis is directly related to government decisions to withhold water (pumping restrictions).
The bottom line: The Delta pumps must operate year-long if the state and federal water projects are to serve the people of Central and Southern California.
DISTORTION: Water has been over-promised to farmers.
FACT: This statement is false.
In order to come to the conclusion that water is over-promised, you have to first accept the false notion that water is only used once. Water is used, processed and reused many times as it travels through the state's water system. The only water that is not recycled is the water that is flushed into the ocean for environmental purposes.
DISTORTION: Fishermen are out of work because of Delta pumping. More than 23,000 jobs and $1.4 billion has been lost to the economy of California due to termination of commercial and recreational salmon fishing
FACT: According to the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman, there are approximately 3,000 fishermen in California and Oregon. There is no reliable data that suggests these individuals are all unemployed nor is there reliable data that suggests as many as 23,000 workers have lost their jobs.
With the American people not buying the policy of protecting fish at the expense of families, liberals are now touting a new argument. Congress can't restore the flow of water because it would hurt fishermen. This simply isn't true.
Furthermore, despite limited evidence of "devastation" more than $200 million has been spent by taxpayers to bail out fishermen over the past two years - more money per recipient than Hurricane Katrina survivors.
Indeed, thanks to an earmark by liberal leaders in Congress, each of 1,722 permit holding salmon fishermen received generous payments from the federal government in 2008 - $170 million worth. More than a thousand businesses also received payments. This large sum was provided despite the fact that the total economic impact of the closed salmon run was estimated at $82 million (according to the Congressional Research Service, the economic impact was actually $57.9 million, but we will accept the higher number for the sake of argument).
A unique form of disaster relief, the salmon bailout money replaced 100% of fishing income based on the their "best recent year," resulting in six figure payouts for many. This unprecedented bailout came on top of a $60 million salmon industry bailout in 2007.
While I believe there are serious problems with the fisheries off the coast of California, I reject the claims of radical environmentalists and their proxies in the fishing industry. Delta pumping is not responsible for the fishery collapse (see chart on opposite page). And while there are likely commercial and recreation fishermen who have suffered as a result of these problems, the magnitude both in economic terms and human cost does not begin to compare with the suffering in the San Joaquin Valley – where nearly 40,000 people are out of work, and 500,000 thousand acres of farmland have become desert.
A final point, the unemployment on the North Coast of California, the supposed area of great economic distress due to fishery collapse, is below the state average.
DISTORTION: Republicans are also to blame – they supported/signed laws that hurt the valley. This is not a partisan problem.
FACT: There are several compelling facts that prove the origin of our crisis to be Democratic lawmakers.
The first major blow against San Joaquin Valley farming occurred in 1992 with the passage of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. The bill was authored by Democrat Congressman George Miller, who was Chairman of the Resources Committee at the time, and folded into a larger piece of legislation – where it passed with veto proof majorities in the House and Senate. At the time, Democrats controlled 270 House seats and 57 Senate seats. CVPIA diverted more than a million acre feet of water away from communities south of the Delta.
In addition, Congressman George Miller has admitted to a central role in a host of lawsuits that have devastated the San Joaquin Valley. These lawsuits lead to biological opinions that are seriously flawed - denying entire regions of California access to water. Democrats were also instrumental in the passage of the San Joaquin River Settlement earlier this year, which in time will dry up communities on the east side of the valley.
DISTORTION: Unemployment in the farm economy of California has gone down in the past year, not up.
FACT: According to a May 2009 study conducted by the University of California, Davis, 35,285 jobs and $1.6 billion in economic revenue have been lost as a result of the man-made drought.
Far more jobs and economic activity are at risk. The overall unemployment rate in the San Joaquin Valley (15%) is far higher than the rest of California (12%). The unemployment in water deprived communities is still higher (36%). Farmers, local governments, small businesses and unemployed workers all cite water shortages as the predominate factor. In sharp contrast, each of the North State counties claiming catastrophic unemployment due to closed fisheries are experiencing unemployment rates below the state average (Mendocino 10.1%, Humboldt 10.3%, Sonoma 9.9%, Del Norte 11.9%, Marin 8%).
DISTORTION: Radicals are not in control of the environmental movement. They are the exception.
FACT: Radicals have taken control of the environmental movement – including organizations that are viewed as "mainstream" by the public.
Patrick Moore, a founding member of Greenpeace and environmental activist, recently said that many environmental leaders "have abandoned science and are following agendas that have little to do with saving the Earth." Moore continues to explain that radical activists have anti-human agendas.
There are countless examples of radicalism run amok in the environmental community. While most of these groups push their anti-human policies through Congress and the courts, some are more direct. For example, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF) are identified by the FBI as terrorist organizations. In 2001, ELF was named one of our nation's most active extremist groups and a top terrorist threat. Despite their notoriety among our nation's top law enforcement agencies, these organizations are virtually invisible in America. So too is their association with organizations like Greenpeace, which has helped finance acts of eco-terrorism according to federal prosecutors.
Acts of terrorism are not the only indicator of extremism among environmental groups today. The modern environmental movement is a threat to public health and safety in other ways. For example, radicals are working to ban the chlorination of water. This backwards policy is being advocated despite the fact that it would result in epidemics of cholera and other deadly diseases around the world.
Environmentalists also persist in opposing the use of the lifesaving chemical DDT. This chemical was used to protect the American people from malaria until the 1960s but was banned following a public campaign led by activist Rachel Carson. She has since been recognized as the founder of the modern environmental movement.
Despite the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) has rejected the scientific basis for banning DDT, environmentalists like Al Gore cling to the ban for political rather than scientific reasons. Meanwhile, malaria is an epidemic and global health threat. There are 500 million cases of the preventable disease every year.