[env-trinity] Bush Adminstration Declares War on Fish by Renewing Water Contracts

Daniel Bacher 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 
California’s 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 Joaquin’s 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 
California’s 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 California’s water wars and outrage those who are 
intimately acquainted with the Bureau of Reclamation’s 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 Joaquin’s 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 Bureau’s 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 
agency’s 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 
pumping operations.

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 doesn’t 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 California’s natural 
resources at the taxpayer’s 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 Tribe’s 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.

“It’s 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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