[env-trinity] Counterpunch Article on Westlands Water Hoarding
danielbacher at fishsniffer.com
Mon Aug 24 11:43:04 PDT 2009
A Burson-Marsteller Greenwash
Westlands Hoards Surplus Water
While Farmworkers Suffer
By DAN BACHER
Over the past several months, the mainstream media and right wing
demagogues such as Sean Hannity have reported "heart rending" stories
about the Westlands Water District having to fallow fields, putting
farmworkers out of work and farms in jeopardy because of a lack of
water, supposedly caused by pumping restrictions protecting Delta
smelt and Sacramento River Chinook salmon. The movement by a broad
coalition of commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, Delta
family farmers, California Indian Tribes and environmental justice
advocates to restore the Delta and its collapsing fish populations
has been falsely cast by Westlands and San Joaquin Valley
agribusiness interests as favoring "fish over people."
The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance District (CSPA) has
countered the lies behind this cynical campaign by revealing that the
district has been "squirreling away" surplus water it can't use. CSPA
has discovered a Westlands' information bulletin dated July 23, 2009
revealing that the giant irrigation district, considered the "Darth
Vader" of California water politics by fish restoration advocates,
has been hiding considerable carryover storage from last year and is
adding even more this year. The group is calling for an investigation
into Westlands' surplus water and possible surplus water hidden away
by other water districts.
“The idea that Westlands Water District has been hoarding surplus
water it can't use while farm workers have been paid to hold vocal
protests around the Central Valley accusing Congressman George Miller
and federal agencies of starving farmers in order to protect Delta
smelt is outrageous," said Bill Jennings, CSPA executive director.
“Perhaps Congressmen Devin Nunes and Dennis Cardoza can use their
influence to persuade Westlands to share some of their stored water
wealth to benefit those less fortunate. Clearly an investigation is
needed to see who else might be hoarding surplus water.”
At the end of 2008, Westlands had some 233,998 acre-feet (AF) of
water stored in other facilities that it didn't need, according to
Jennings. Some 93,700 AF of that stored water were used through June
2009. However, the export pumping restrictions caused by the Delta
Smelt Biological Opinion ended June 30 and the State and Federal
Projects have ramped up pumping.
Westlands has made firm commitments to acquire 141,522 AF of
supplemental water and is requesting additional supplies.
"Consequently, Westlands staff projects that the District will end
the water year with approximately 275,000 AF of water it is unable to
use," Jennings disclosed.
The disclosure of the hoarding of water by Westlands occurs as the
district and its front group, the Latino Water Coalition, have been
campaigning to give a "human face" to corporate agribusiness by
busing hundreds of farmworkers to "rallies" and "marches" in Fresno,
Sacramento and Concord demanding increased pumping of water from the
Delta. However, no legitimate farmworker organizations are supporting
these efforts, organized by the public relations firm Burson-
Marsteller, notorious for campaigns to cast a "democratic" image to
dictatorships around the world for decades and for numerous corporate
Paul Rodriguez, a comedian and grower who frequently appears at
rallies and marches with Governor Arnold Schwarzengger in support of
increasing water exports out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in
total disregard for Delta farmers, farmworkers, recreational fishing
businesss and commercial fishermen that depend upon a healthy Delta
for their livelihoods, is the chair of the Latino Water Coalition.
The coalition includes three co-chairs - Orange Cove Mayor Victor P.
Lopez, Ruben Guerra of the Latin Business Association and Tony
Estremera, a director of the Santa Clara Valley Water District.
Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers of America,
the 27,000-member union founded by Cesar Chavez, blasted the Latino
Water Coalition's so-called "March for Water" this April for being an
event organized by corporate agribusiness, completely stripping away
the coalition's claims that it was lobbying on behalf of farmworkers.
"In reality, this is not a farm worker march,'' Rodriguez told the
New Work Times on April 17. ''This is a farmer march orchestrated and
financed by growers.''
Ironically, the corporate farmers claiming to stand up for their
workers against "radical environmentalists" represent the same San
Joaquin agribusiness interests that have ruthlessly exploited
farmworkers, crushed their right to organize and denied them their
right to clean drinking water in the fields for decade after decade.
Last year alone 6 farmworkers died due to heat exposure in unsafe
working conditions imposed upon them by growers.
The disclosure of the hoarding of water by Westlands occurs as
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Diane Feinstein and
California Legislators, pressured by corporate agribusiness, are
pushing for the construction of a peripheral canal to increase water
exports to Westlands and southern California. A coalition of fishing
groups, Delta family farmers, Indian Tribes and principled
environmentalists is fighting the canal, an enormously costly
government boondoggle that would result in pushing Central Valley
salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, striped bass, green sturgeon and
other California Delta fish populations into the abyss of extinction.
On August 18, the California Legislature held a joint hearing of the
Assembly Parks and Wildlife and Senate Resources and Water Committees
to review a controversial package of five water bills that Jennings
describes as a "road map" to the construction of the peripheral canal
as Schwarzenegger, Westlands growers and the Latino Water Coalition
held a rally pushing for a peripheral canal and more dams at the
capitol. Canal opponents, including Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla,
campaign director of Restore the Delta, Mark Franco, headman of the
Winnemem Wintu Tribe, and Zeke Grader, executive director of the
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, and others at
the hearing spoke against the mad rush by the Legislature to push
through a package that would result in the destruction of the Delta
estuary and its fish.
"The peripheral canal is a big, stupid idea that doesn’t make any
sense from a tribal environmental perspective,” Franco said during a
rally at the Capitol on July 7. “Building a canal to save the Delta
is like a doctor inserting an arterial bypass from your shoulder to
your hand– it will cause your elbow to die just like taking water out
of the Delta through a peripheral canal will cause the Delta to die.”
During a recent town hall meeting in Fresno featuring Interior
Secretary Ken Salazar, the UFW's Arturo Rodriguez was the only member
of the meeting panel who didn’t call for the construction of the
peripheral canal and more dams or overturning the biological opinions
under the Endangered Species Act. In an interview with me, Rodriguez
pointed out the contradiction between agribusiness asking for new
water infrastructure when farmworkers are denied clean drinking water
in the fields.
“We have no thoughts on the peripheral canal or dams at this time,”
Rodriguez said. “We are looking at the plans and proposals to ensure
that what is done takes into account the needs of farmworkers,
including making sure that farmworkers have sufficient water to drink
in the fields. This is about more than just ensuring water for
agriculture – we want to sure that workers have good jobs with good
wages and access to representation.”
Ironically, when Salazar randomly selected comment cards from the
farmworkers to speak at the microphone before the crowd, not one of
the workers themselves complained about unemployment. Their concerns
were the same as those voiced by Rodriguez - the urgent need for
clean drinking water in the fields, improved wages and working
conditions and access to union representation. While the growers
bemoaned the "loss" of farmworker jobs due to the favoring of "fish
versus people," not one of the workers themselves brought this issue up!
State water standards violated to deliver Westlands surplus water!
The Westlands bulletin also points out that the Banks pumping plant
of the State Water Project in the South Delta has been pumping about
1,000 AF of Central Valley Project daily. "Of course use of the
'Joint Point of Diversion' (JPOD) is illegal and violates D-1641, the
State Water Resource Control Board's (State Board) order implementing
the Bay-Delta Plan. D-1641 explicitly prohibits use of JPOD when
south Delta salinity standards are being violated," Jennings pointed
Presently the running 30-day average for electrical conductivity, the
measure of salinity, at Old River near Tracy is 1.02 umhos/cm. The
water quality standard for this period is 0.7 umhos/cm to protect
Delta agriculture. "South Delta salinity standards have been
continually violated the last seven months, imperiling Delta fish
populations and Delta farms," Jennings stated.
Jennings said the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) and California
Department of Water Resources (DWR) have been ignoring the Cease &
Deist Order issued by the State Board in 2006 for violation of south
Delta salinity standards. Recently, they requested an extension of
the compliance schedule for that Cease & Deist Order beyond the 1
July 2009 deadline.
CSPA was a party in the June 2009 State Board evidentiary hearing
regarding the DWR/USBR request. Even though the State Board declared
in 2006 they would not again extend the compliance schedule, they are
expected to shortly issue a decision extending the schedule and
excusing past violations. CSPA is prepared to sue over the Board's
continued refusal to enforce the Cease & Desist Order. However, the
prohibition against using JPOD while standards are violated was
neither raised nor discussed in that hearing.
"Earlier this year, the State Board held hearings to consider a
relaxation of Delta outflow standards because they were being
violated," Jennings stated. "While April rains eliminated the need
for relaxed standards, the Board refused to penalize the USBR and DWR
for violating existing standards. In June, the USBR acknowledged that
Vernalis flows were only about 59 per cent of required flow. Again,
the State Board took no action. Water quality standards in the
southern Delta have been consistently exceeded since last December."
Jennings observed that, “the State Board continues to look the other
way as virtually all of the standards protecting the Delta and its
collapsing fisheries are ignored and DWR and USBR violate the law in
order to supply Westlands with water they can't use….CSPA remains
concerned about the plight of unemployed farm workers, even as we
note that data from the California Economic Development Department
and annual reports from County Agricultural Commissioners reveal that
both farm labor employment and the value of agricultural production
has increased in the seven south-of-Delta counties over the course of
I applaud Jennings and the California Sportfishing Protection
Alliance for exposing Westlands' hoarding of water while corporate
agribusiness and the Latino Water Coalition engage in a false and
misleading campaign portraying themselves as the "voice" of the "poor
farmworker" while they clearly care nothing about farmworkers nor the
thousands of people in the recreational and commercial fishing
industries that are now unemployed, due to the collapse of Central
Valley salmon and Delta fish populations spurred by increasing water
exports from the Delta in recent years.
For more information and to read the Westlands report that Jennings
based his analysis on, go to http://www.calsport.org/8-19-09.htm.
Dan Bacher can be reached at: Danielbacher at fishsniffer.com
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