[env-trinity] Sac Bee Editorial 3 7 10

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Sun Mar 7 21:53:34 PST 2010

Stuart Leavenworth: Feinstein says she's no Westlands 'shill,' but ...

By Stuart Leavenworth, Editorial page editor 
sleavenworth at sacbee.com The Sacramento Bee 

Published: Sunday, Mar. 7, 2010 - 12:00 am | Page 6E 

Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 7, 2010 - 12:16 pm

You know you've struck a nerve with an editorial when, on the very next
business day,  <http://topics.sacbee.com/California/> California's senior
senator rings you on the telephone. 

That's how I found myself spending an hour on Monday, engaged in an animated
but civil exchange with
<http://topics.sacbee.com/U.S.+Sen.+Dianne+Feinstein/> U.S. Sen. Dianne

Feinstein, calling me from her home near the nation's capital, was
responding to a Feb. 27 editorial on her efforts to secure more water for
the  <http://topics.sacbee.com/Westlands+Water+District/> Westlands Water
District, an agricultural giant in the
<http://topics.sacbee.com/San+Joaquin+Valley/> San Joaquin Valley. 

Westlands, a federal water contractor that lacks secure
<http://topics.sacbee.com/water+rights/> water rights of its own, has found
itself vulnerable to cutbacks in supplies. Such cutbacks are the result of
drought and court decisions aimed at protecting smelt and salmon in the
<http://topics.sacbee.com/Sacramento/> Sacramento-San Joaquin
<http://topics.sacbee.com/Delta/> Delta. 

Three weeks ago, it was learned that Feinstein was drafting legislation to
override federal biological opinions that limit water pumping from the
<http://topics.sacbee.com/Delta/> Delta on the behalf of fish. She came
under a fair amount of criticism for that move, not just from us, but other
newspapers, too. 

"I've been crucified by editorial boards up and down the state," said

For the record, I would not describe either of our two recent editorials on
Feinstein as a crucifixion. The first one, on Feb. 14, began with these
lines: "In her long and mostly distinguished career,
<http://topics.sacbee.com/U.S.+Sen.+Dianne+Feinstein/> U.S. Sen. Dianne
Feinstein has championed many environmental causes. At times she has also
challenged environmentalists to consider interests other than their own.
That's good."

Then it went on to suggest that Feinstein had made a serious error by
drafting her measure - one she later dropped.

Feinstein's main reason for calling was to complain that I hadn't made an
attempt to obtain details of her bill language before publishing our

I acknowledged we hadn't sought that information, assuming she (like other
senators) wouldn't provide details of a bill that hadn't yet been filed.

In the spirit of openness, I then asked her to go public with the language
of her amendment. She declined.

"What's the point?" she asked.

The conversation went on from there.

I asked her why she was devoting such singular attention to Westlands and
not some of the other interests hurt by
<http://topics.sacbee.com/California/> California's water crisis - such as
salmon fishermen.

Feinstein responded that she regularly visits the west side of the San
Joaquin Valley during harvest time. During her last visit, she said, "It was
the closest to civil insurrection that I have ever seen."

Undoubtedly it's tough for certain farmers around Fresno, my hometown. Many
have had to fallow land. Some have had to rip up orchards.

On the other hand, as I noted to Feinstein, scores of Fresno farm operations
spent the last decade planting almond orchards, even though they lacked
secure  <http://topics.sacbee.com/water+rights/> water rights or adequate
groundwater. Is it the government's duty to help farmers who have made such
risky decisions? 

Feinstein's only answer was that the
<http://topics.sacbee.com/Central+Valley/> Central Valley is a major
exporter of almonds, and the state should do all it can to protect the

>From our conversation, it was clear Feinstein has bought into many of the
talking points of Westlands - that smelt in the
<http://topics.sacbee.com/Delta/> Delta are being wiped out by predators
more than water pumps, that the  <http://topics.sacbee.com/Delta/> Delta is
being poisoned with ammonia from sewage treatment plants in
<http://topics.sacbee.com/Sacramento/> Sacramento and elsewhere.

Several times, Feinstein made the claim that the state is in a "wet water
year," and thus should be able to spare some for farms. Water, she said, was
spilling from  <http://topics.sacbee.com/Shasta+Lake/> Shasta Lake.

When I challenged her on that point, she responded. "Want to bet?" 

I could then hear her rustling through some papers before conceding that
Shasta was well below its capacity. 

Why is Feinstein going to bat for Westlands is this way? 

Politics is one answer. Farm water is a huge issue for Valley Democrats
trying to keep their seats this year. By putting pressure on the Obama
administration to favor farmers over fish, Feinstein provides cover for
vulnerable Dems, such as U.S. Reps. Jim Costa and
<http://topics.sacbee.com/Dennis+Cardoza/> Dennis Cardoza and U.S. Sen.
<http://topics.sacbee.com/Barbara+Boxer/> Barbara Boxer.

Yet as a U.S. senator who wants a long-term fix to the
<http://topics.sacbee.com/Delta/> Delta's problems, Feinstein needs to be
careful about playing favorites. Numerous water groups have an interest in
the  <http://topics.sacbee.com/Delta/> Delta. All are legitimate. All would
like to get the same attention Feinstein reserves for Westlands. 

"To say that I am a shill for Westlands just isn't right," Feinstein told

Perhaps not. But given her actions of recent weeks, she will have to prove



Byron Leydecker, JcT, Chair

Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 Land/Fax (Call first to Fax) 

415 519 4810 Mobile

bwl3 at comcast.net

bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org (Secondary)

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


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