[env-trinity] SF Chron 01 22 09

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Thu Jan 22 11:27:10 PST 2009


To save salmon, stop subsidizing toxic farming

Dave Bitts

Thursday, January 22, 2009


State and federal water managers are pumping California's most valuable
resource as fast as they can, and the consequence - the ecological crash of
the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta - is a catastrophe for us all.
Especially hard hit are coastal communities, where salmon fishing has been
central to the economy and culture for more than a century.



TL&o=0> http://imgs.sfgate.com/graphics/utils/plus-green.gifView Larger
Image Federal pumping plant near Tracy draws the Delta water into the
Delta-Mendota Canal, where it travels to Western San Joaquin Valley fields.

 <http://www.sfgate.com/columns/openforum/archive/> More Open Forum > 


To bring back salmon and other native fish, we must stop depleting the delta
by sending millions of acre feet of water each year to the western San
Joaquin Valley, where corporate megafarms pay pennies for
taxpayer-subsidized water to irrigate cotton and other thirsty crops on arid
lands with toxic soil. The biggest of these farms are in the Westlands Water
District, long the most powerful player in the state's water politics.

A draft report released last Thursday by the National Marine Fisheries
Service confirms that the operations of the federal Central Valley Project
and the smaller State Water Project, which pump delta water southward,
jeopardize the very existence of the state's spring and winter run of
Chinook salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon - all endangered or threatened
species. Undoubtedly, pumping is devastating the commercially valuable fall
run of Chinook as well. 

Until two years ago, Chinook from the Sacramento provided most of the year's
catch for sports and commercial salmon fishermen in California and Oregon.
Historically, the Sacramento has consistently produced far more salmon than
any other river south of the Columbia - until the run crashed in the face of
record water exports, requiring the closure of all ocean salmon fishing
south of Cape Falcon, Ore. 

Meanwhile, the state Water Resources Control Board, which is supposed to be
protecting the delta fishery, has turned a blind eye to the depredations of
the water export agencies, as have the state Department of Fish and Game and
the governor's office.

Westlands Water District irrigates hundreds of thousands of acres of
semi-arid land that is tainted with selenium, a highly toxic mineral.
Irrigation causes selenium to leach out of the soil.

Twenty-five years ago, Westlands dumped its toxic wastewater at the
Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge, killing thousands of migratory birds.
After the Kesterson disaster came to light, Westlands had a harder time
evading the truth about the widespread destruction its irrigation practices
caused. But the district farmers haven't learned their lesson.

Westlands says about 100,000 of the most poisoned or poorly draining acres
have been taken out of production, and wants taxpayers to pay for a
Kesterson-like scheme to drain another 100,000 acres. But federal scientists
say the amount of contaminated cropland is closer to half a million acres.

The cheapest and most environmentally sound answer is to take all of the
tainted land out of production, which would greatly reduce the amount of
water Westlands needs. But the district is in negotiations with the federal
mangers of the Central Valley Project for a 50-year contract that would
entitle it to more water, not less, which it could then turn around and sell
at great profit to water-scarce cities in Southern California. Westlands has
the backing of some of the highest-ranking politicians in Washington and

The state Water Resources Control Board has failed to declare irrigation and
cultivation of these selenium-tainted soils an unreasonable use of water,
although they are now facing a lawsuit brought by sport fishermen over this
issue. The state still allows irrigation districts north of Westlands to
funnel their wastewater into the lower San Joaquin River. The water board
and the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board have turned the
lower San Joaquin River and the delta into a sewer and all but invited
generators of waste to use the delta as a toilet.

We can't continue to promise more water than nature supplies. California has
a finite water supply that is already stretched beyond its limits. When are
water users and managers going to face facts? Will our fish disappear
forever before they do?

Dave Bitts of McKinleyville (Humboldt County) is president of the Pacific
Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.



Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land

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://www.fotr.org 




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