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Nunes Bill benefits Westside growers at expense of environment, public

The killing of millions of Sacramento splittail, a native minnow species, and thousands of threatened Central Valley spring-run chinook salmon at the state and federal water project pumps in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta over the past week highlights the folly of H.R. 1837, the resolution by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) to guarantee water supplies to corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

The San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act “would undo years of efforts to balance Delta restoration with water supply reliability and to restore the San Joaquin River,” according to a news release from Restore the Delta.

“H.R. 1837 is an end run around California’s water rights laws,” said Delta pear farmer Brett Baker. “It puts junior rights holders ahead of Delta agriculture, Indian tribes, and fish. Forget public trust protections.”

Recovery of the West Coast’s recreational and commercial fishing industries is threatened by operation of federal and state water projects, which create conditions hostile to Central Valley Chinook salmon and other species.

During the 8-day period from May 16 though May 23, the federal pumps killed 4,241,089 Sacramento splittail and the state facilities took 157,349 fish. That’s a total of 4,400,073 splittail.

During the same 8-day period, the federal pumps killed 1935 threatened spring run Chinooks and the state facilities took 1,660 salmon. That’s a total of 3,595 spring Chinooks prevented from ever getting to the ocean.

The bill, backed by subsidized corporate agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, threatens to drive already imperiled fish species over the abyss of extinction.

This pumping continues despite the fact that reservoirs throughout the state are full, according to Baker. At the same time, export contractors have refused to pay for state-of-the-art fish screens at the pumps that were mandated under the CalFed Record of Decision.

“Nunes argues that federal endangered species protections have cost tens of thousands of jobs in impoverished San Joaquin Valley communities,” said Baker. “But research by Dr. Jeffrey Michael of the University of the Pacific’s Business Forecasting Center has shown conclusively that San Joaquin Valley job losses are lower than claimed and have been driven by the housing construction collapse.”

Unemployment in San Joaquin Valley communities like Mendota and Firebaugh has risen dramatically since water project deliveries for desert agriculture on drainage-impaired land began in the 1960s.

“These communities have been impoverished for decades regardless of how much water has been available,” said Restore the Delta’s Jane Wagner-Tyack. “Now their suffering is being used to justify actions that will destroy jobs in other parts of the state.”

Wagner-Tyack said that even with pumping restrictions to protect salmon and other species, average exports from the Delta are now similar to what they were in the 1980s and 1990s. Several years of dramatic increases in pumping during the past decade – from 2003 through 2006 – have driven some species of fish, including Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and Sacramento River spring-run and winter-run Chinook salmon, to the brink of extinction.

Millions of tax dollars have been spent on scientific reviews confirming the adverse effects of project over-pumping, she added.

The irony is that the Obama and Brown administrations, although they claim they will be more “inclusive and transparent” in continuing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), are still advocating Delta “conveyance” alternatives including a peripheral canal/tunnel, a Nineteenth Century approach to dealing with Twenty-First Century water and environmental issues.

Can we expect the state and federal governments to mitigate for future impacts to imperiled fish populations by the canal when they have not held the water contractors accountable for mitigation for the millions and millions of fish the pumps have killed over the years – and while they have failed to compel the contractors to pay for modern fish screens to protect fish?

“The contractors didn’t want to pay for the fish screens, so why would they pay to mitigate the canal?” asked Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta’s executive director.

Restore the Delta is a broad-based coalition including Delta farmers, environmentalists, fishermen, business leaders, and concerned citizens. Restore the Delta advocates for a more comprehensive and thoughtful approach to address the state’s water needs, including projects that safeguard the Bay, the Delta, the environment, and the people of California. For more information, go to:

Take action to stop H.R. 1837 and save California salmon by going to the Center for Biological Diversity website,