[env-trinity] SF Chronicle December 2 2008

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Tue Dec 2 10:28:38 PST 2008

Group wants chemical-filled farmland retired

 <mailto:kzito at sfchronicle.com> Kelly Zito, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, December 2, 2008



(12-01) 19:17 PST -- The giant state and federal pumps in the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta that funnel water to 25 million Californians should be shut
down until certain Central Valley farmers retire hundreds of thousands of
acres of chemical-laden farmland, according to a lawsuit filed today by a
state water watchdog.

Irrigating agricultural land in the western San Joaquin Valley tainted with
selenium, mercury, boron and other toxic substances constitutes an
unreasonable use of a public resource protected by state laws and has
contributed to the sharp decline of endangered fish species, said the
California Water Impact Network.

"We think there is a simple solution to California's water problems - to
retire all of the drainage-impaired lands in the Central Valley. A second is
water conservation - agriculture uses 80 percent of the developed surface
water," said Carolee Krieger, president and founder C-WIN.

The lawsuit marks the latest twist in the continuing Delta drama. The hub of
the state's 1,300-square-mile water system is also at the heart of the fight
between uses for food and human needs, and those of wildlife and rare
plants. In recent years, failure of the ecosystem forced legal rulings that
curbed water exports - a move made more complicated this year by a drought
and fears of another dry winter. 

In the 27-page lawsuit filed in superior court in Sacramento , C-Win, the
California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and an individual, Felix Smith,
lays much of the blame for the system's problem on water over-allocation.
One culprit, the lawsuit said, is the State Water Resources Control Board,
which issues all water permits in the state. 

Also named were the state Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau
of Reclamation, the two operators of the huge pumps and pipelines that send
water, mainly from the north, to water users throughout California.

Although turning off the pumps would impact residential, industrial and
agricultural users, plaintiffs in the case, as well as environmental and
other groups contend that recent, increased pumping by the state and federal
agencies through the Delta has killed millions of protected and endangered
fish species, including the Delta smelt. Much of the water has gone to
watering cropland laden with chemicals that filter into the San Joaquin
River and back to the southern Delta.

Poor regulation decried

"California has regulated its waters like the feds have regulated Wall
Street and the result has been a collapse of fisheries and aquatic
ecosystems," said California Sportfishing Protection Alliance Chairman and
Director Bill Jennings. "We have little alternative but to turn to the
courts to prevent the extinction of our historic fisheries."

Officials at the state Department of Water Resources, the Water Control
Resources Board and the Bureau of Reclamation could not be reached for

A spokeswoman for the largest irrigation district in the country, located
around Fresno, called the lawsuit "disappointing." 

To date, about 100,000 agricultural acres have been taken out of production
due to poor drainage and chemical saturation, said Sarah Woolf, of the
Westlands Water District, which serves 600,000 acres and about 700 farms.

Working with state

At the same time, the agency has been working with state and federal
legislators over the past 25 years to craft a deal that would fix the
drainage problems with funds from the water district and landowners.
Westlands estimates there are about 100,000 more acres of contaminated acres
with poor drainage; Krieger put the number at closer to 1 million acres.

"We're moving forward and being aggressive about it," Woolf said. "But
really it's the environmental community that's holding it up."

Last year, in an effort to curb the fish population decline, a federal judge
ordered reduced Delta pumping - a move that critics like Westlands claim has
not helped boost the smelt or other fish species.

"In the last year we had the biggest cutbacks in pumping in the history of
the entire system," Woolf said. "Six hundred acre feet were dedicated to
helping fish, and the numbers of the Delta smelt are still down."

But Krieger, of C-WIN, said the rapid die-off of the Delta smelt adds more
urgency to fixing the ecosystem. 

"You can't interrupt the food chain without having dire consequences," she
said. "It's not just a little fish. It's the bellwether of the Delta." 



Byron Leydecker, JCT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810

415 519 4810 cell

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org

 <http://fotr.org> http://fotr.org 



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