[env-trinity] Fresno Bee June 25 2009
bwl3 at comcast.net
Thu Jun 25 15:02:11 PDT 2009
Water draws Interior chief to Fresno for hearing;
Salazar, congressional leaders at town hall meeting Sunday
Fresno Bee - 6/25/09
By Tim Sheehan and Michael Doyle
MENDOTA -- Under increasing political pressure to address California's water
crisis, the Obama administration said Wednesday it will dispatch Interior
Secretary Ken Salazar to a hastily organized town hall meeting Sunday in
Interior Department officials have not yet identified a location for the
meeting, which is scheduled to run from 2:30 to 4 p.m. But it will be
Salazar's first official on-the-ground visit to the region.
On Wednesday, meanwhile, state agriculture officials said that a combination
of drought and federal environmental regulations have the potential to turn
a short-term water crisis into a long-term agricultural and economic
During a hearing Wednesday of the state Board of Food and Agriculture at
Mendota High School, panelists raised many of the same issues as at rallies
this spring: Less water for west-side growers means less acreage planted,
creating a spike in unemployment and economic hardship for farm laborers and
"With this regulatory and geologic drought, we've seen really how
agriculture touches every life," state Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura
said. "Especially in this region, so many lives are being affected beyond
the farmers and farmworkers. ... The communities impacted go well beyond the
Agriculture on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley relies largely on
water transferred through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta from Northern
California. But the effects of a three-year drought, coupled with federal
environmental decisions to protect the delta smelt and salmon, have severely
narrowed the periods in which massive pumps can be used to move water from
north to south.
Now, there is a window of less than 90 days in which the pumps can operate;
other proposed regulations threaten to reduce that to about a month out of
the year, officials said.
"We can have a lot of rain next year and still have these problems," said
Dan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water
Authority. "We had chronic shortages even before the smelt and salmon
decisions; these regulations just exacerbated them."
Mendota Mayor Robert Silva and Firebaugh City Manager Jose Antonio Ramirez
both described high unemployment and lower sales taxes that are forcing them
to make painful cuts to their cities' services.
"It's survival mode for west-side cities," Silva said. "If farmers don't
have water, there's no future for farm towns on the west side."
Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson agreed, adding that farm woes are
driving unemployment higher and sales tax and property tax revenues lower in
"Farmers are getting frustrated, even to the point of losing their farms,"
he said. "But forget about the farmers -- look at the people, the school
kids, the food lines."
And the worst of the unemployment may be yet to come.
West-side farmers Shawn Coburn and Bob Diedrich said the farm labor picture
will become clearer as the harvest season progresses with far fewer crops to
Coburn said he's being forced to rely on low-quality, salty water pumped
from underground just to keep his almond trees alive. "I've got 100 people
coming out every couple of days looking for work, and we're just fighting
for our lives out here," he said.
Wednesday's hearing won't render immediate relief, but Kawamura said he
hopes it will encourage the U.S. Department of the Interior to incorporate
flexibility and balance in its regulation of the delta pumps.
"This should not be 'state vs. federal,' " Kawamura said. "This should be
the federal government understanding that this is an issue of the food
supply, of food security for the nation.
"This state, more than any other in the nation, believes in environmental
protection," he said. "But there is a need for flexibility, both for
infrastructure and for regulations, and for federal agencies to move away
from black-and-white to what works in a crisis."
The water emergency has prompted California to ask the Obama administration
for everything from federal funding and streamlined rules to approve new
water projects. But Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, warned against high
expectations for Salazar's visit Sunday.
"He isn't going to solve every California water problem on this trip,"
Cardoza cautioned. "It's a fact-finding trip."
Salazar will be accompanied by Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes, Bureau
of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor and several Valley lawmakers.
Cardoza and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, both met Wednesday with Interior
officials and plan to attend the Fresno meeting.
"Ever since we first met with Secretary Salazar in March, we've been telling
him he needed to get involved in this," Costa said. "We've been hammering on
them every week."
Republicans have also urged Interior officials to pay greater heed to the
Valley's water problems. Spencer Pederson, spokesman for Rep. George
Radanovich, R-Mariposa, said late Wednesday that Salazar "needs to see for
himself what's going on out there."
Neither Radanovich nor Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, had been informed of
In recent weeks, the Valley legislators lined up behind an amendment by
Nunes to block a federal decision steering more water into fish habitat
Though the amendment failed by a 218-208 vote last week, lawmakers suggested
it sent a signal that could not be ignored.
"It's OK to value fish, that's OK," Nunes said during House debate, "but
understand you're starving families while you value fish."
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
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