[env-trinity] Bush Adminstration Declares War on Fish by Renewing
danielbacher at hotmail.com
Wed Mar 2 08:51:39 PST 2005
Bush Administration Declares War on Fish By Renewing Water Contracts
by Dan Bacher
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced its decision to perpetuate
Californias fish and water problems for decades by beginning to sign
contracts with about 200 water districts and water contractors in the
Central Valley Project last week.
Rather than heeding the pleas of fishermen, Indian tribes and environmental
organizations to slow down the process so that the environmental impacts of
these contracts could be properly reviewed with full public input, the Bush
administration decided to proceed with a process that serves the Westlands
Water District and other corporate water kings rather than the public trust.
On February 25, The Bureau began signing contracts for 25 or 40 years,
depending upon the contract type. The contracts will provide water for 3.7
million acres of farmland in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys,
including vast tracts of corporate farms on the San Joaquins west side that
never should have been farmed because of the damage caused to fish, wildlife
and the environment.
The water service contracts from Redding to Bakersfield account for
approximately 5.6 million-acre feet of water annually. These contracts are
being renewed for 25 years for growers and 40 years for municipal and
industrial users. The Sacramento River Settlement contracts, which cover
irrigators and water districts that were diverting from the Sacramento River
under state water rights claims before the CVP was constructed, were renewed
for 40 years. These contractors receive a total of 1.8 million-acre feet of
The contract renewals create a double whammy of environmental destruction.
While increased diversions of water mandated by the contracts will result in
declines of listed species such as winter run chinook, Delta smelt and
steelhead, the farming of land laced with selenium and other toxic salts and
minerals will result in increased drainage problems on the ravaged west side
of the San Joaquin Valley.
This has been a long, complex and demanding process and these contracts
have been weighed and measured through two administrations, gushed
Mid-Pacific Regional Director Kirk Rodgers upon announcing the signing of
the contracts.. The results will bring continued stability to one of
Californias biggest industries agriculture and provide our growing
cities, industries and businesses with the water they need for tomorrow.
However, the signing of the contracts, rather than bringing stability, is
only serving to reignite Californias water wars and outrage those who are
intimately acquainted with the Bureau of Reclamations policies and its
impact upon fish and wildlife, such as Felix Smith of Carmichael.
Smith, a retired wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
was a whistleblower that brought to national attention the consequences of
the farming of selenium-laced land on the San Joaquins west side in 1983.
Smith documented the horror movie-style deformation of ducks and other birds
resulting from selenium pollution in the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge caused by
the drainage of toxic water from the Westlands Water District.
The Bureaus supposed seriousness about protecting California fisheries is
just a façade, said Smith, a board member of the Save the American River
Association. The only way now that we can make the federal government
become serious about restoring fisheries is by suing them.
A coalition of conservation organizations filed a suit in federal court on
February 15 against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging the
agencys recent biological opinion concluding that increasing exports from
the San Francisco Bay-Delta to the San Joaquin Valley would have no major
impacts on the survival of the federally protected Delta smelt. The
contracts are being renewed on the basis of increasing the capacity for
exporting water out of the Delta through the combining of state and federal
Smith noted that the renewal of the contracts, without an extension of
environmental review as requested last year by Congressman George Miller and
other Members of Congress, locks in this environmental destruction for
decades. The renewal of contracts goes against the historic Mono Lake and
Cal Trout court decisions, which mandate that water agencies protect
fisheries before diverting water. It also violates state Fish and Game Code
5939 requiring that fisheries below dams be kept in good condition.
Not only is the renewal of these contracts damaging to the environment, but
it doesnt make any economic sense. Peter H. Gleick of the Pacific Institute
in Oakland, in the Sacramento Bee on February 25, noted that The use of
1,000 acre feet of water in California produces 9,000 jobs in the
semiconductor industry, 2,500 jobs in commercial offices, 35 jobs in grape
and wine production but only three jobs growing cotton.
Rodgers and his cronies in the Department of Interior have not taken into
account the severe impact that the signing of these contracts will have upon
businesses and livelihoods that depend on fisheries and a healthy
environment. The commercial and recreational fishing industries have been
devastated by declines caused by water diversions but have yet to be
compensated for the damage.
Rather than urging water contractors to retire unsustainable agricultural
land, the Bureau is giving them free reign to plunder Californias natural
resources at the taxpayers expense as they have for over 50 years. An
analysis in the Draft Trinity River Fishery Restoration Supplemental EIS
(2004) showed that land retirement could save 793,056 acre feet in total
CVP-contracted water, which would have been an actual reduction in demand of
568,373 acre feet in 2002, the same year as the unprecedented Klamath Fish
According to the Trinity County Board of Supervisors, permanent land
retirement and dedication of water to other CVP project purposes would
result in significant benefits from reduced pollution from drainage water,
reduced CVP project power usage, increased ability to meet various water
quality standards, increased water storage, increased municipal and
industrial supplies, and more water for environmental needs such as Trinity
River fishery flows and wildlife refuge.
A key linkpin in the contract renewals and the expansion of the pumping
capacity of the Delta water pumps is the raising of Shasta Dam. The
Winnemem Wintu Tribe and a large coalition of fishing and environmental
groups are opposing raising the dam for the huge damage it would cause to
cultural resources of the tribe and Central Valley fisheries. The proposed
18-1/2 feet raise would flood the Winnemem Wintu Tribes sacred cultural
sites, causing cultural genocide, according to Gary Hayward Slaughter
Mulcahy of the Tribe.
The tribe, fishermen and environmental groups have been joined by
Congressman George Miller, Senator Barbara Boxer, family farmers, the
editorial boards of major metropolitan newspapers and millions of
Californians in their opposition to the contract renewals.
Its obvious that the Bush administration is disregarding the views of the
majority of Californians by signing these contracts, said Mulcahy. For the
Bureau to do this, after all of the feedback that they got from California
citizens and the Winnemem Wintu opposing the contract renewals, amounts to a
hijacking of the California public trust by the federal government.
Since it is clear that the Department of Interior refuses to listen to the
pleas of Californians fighting for water equity, the official signing of
these contracts leaves decades of litigation, along with creative direct
action campaigns, as the only alternatives to restoring our fisheries.
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