Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere (and Nowhere)

California's water wars are sparking a civil war within the ranks of the state's progressive politicians, whose respective "communities" (AKA "special interests," if they are represented by Republicans) are up in arms over water diversions in the Central Valley, and declining salmon stocks in the Delta. Stuck in the middle is the government, which is trying in vain to be all things to all people while simultaneously appeasing this pack of whiners.

In one corner, we have long-time Bay Area congressman George Miller who wants water diverted to the Delta to (1) Save The Environment and (2) allow commercial salmon fishermen in his district to have more fish to catch. Doesn't make sense, which is why Miller is explaining all of this VERY LOUDLY: Fishermen Try To Save Chinook Salmon in Delta

"That one side of the state gets to rip off the other side is not sustainable, politically or environmentally," Miller said at the standing-room-only Salmon Summit at Fort Mason. "For 10 years they've violated the laws and the science in the name of greed. But we've beat them before and we'll beat them again."

I think Miller is auditioning for the role of Aging Liberal Lion, recently vacated by Ted Kennedy.

On the other side, we have Central Valley congressman Jim Costa, who is defending the Valley's claim to water diversion (it only enables the state's agricultural breadbasket to remain fertile). Costa is surprisingly vituperative towards Miller: Costa To Miller On Water War: "It's On"

"We have stood up to the bully tactics of extreme environmentalists whose agenda ignores our families and our futures. We've made progress. More water will flow to our Valley and George Miller doesn't like it," Costa said.

"Here's my message to Congressman Miller: We will not back down -- not in the Valley and not in Congress. If he wants a fight with the Latino community and Valley farmworkers whose futures depend on water allocations, we'll give him a fight.

"If he wants to fight with people whose economy hinges on farms getting a fair share of water, we'll give him a fight. If he is willing to destroy the entire Valley way of life to suit his own ends, he'll get the fight of a lifetime.

"George Miller is a poster boy for polluters whose toxic waste creates stress factors that kill fish upstream while he pushes for water restrictions that solely blame and punish us for dwindling fish populations.

"He is the flag carrier for outsiders who are willing to destroy our Valley way of life, our economy and our families.

"We will win this fight. We will change misguided policies that place fish ahead of the well-being of Valley families. Water will flow to our Valley. Jobs will return, and our economy will recover. At the end of the day, this is about our local economy and the food we grow to feed our country. Do we want to be dependent upon Asia and South America for food three times more likely to be contaminated than what we grow and process in America? That's what I am fighting for."

Very entertaining, but you realize you're not going to get anywhere changing misguided environmental policies from within the Democratic Party, right? If you want to ease environmental regulations, you need to work with (if not re-register as) Republicans. Only problem is, the GOP isn't going to sit around listening to you whine about the "Latino community." We only care about individual rights, not group rights.

OK, so everyone has had their say, so what the hecks going on here? Costa and his farmers, along with the "community" have an easy point to make: water diversions for the sake of some fish are causing real economic and social pain for ordinary people. Here's what George Miller and his salmon fishermen have to say about that:

The primary culprit is San Joaquin farmers, fishermen say. A record amount of fresh water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is being pumped to farmers, who are using the water to grow especially thirsty crops like cotton, they said.

From 2003 to 2007, an average of 6 million acre-feet of water a year was pumped south, more than twice the amount diverted in the late 1960s, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

Meanwhile, salmon populations have plummeted to a record low. Historically, millions of salmon a year swam through the Golden Gate and delta and up rivers and streams to spawn. In 2002 that number hit 800,000 a year - the highest total in several decades - but in 2009 only 39,000 salmon made the trip, according to Jon Rosenfeld, conservation biologist with the Bay Institute.

The churning delta pumps crush younger salmon and in some cases actually reverse the flow of the San Joaquin River, confusing older fish. Salmon are also suffering from warmer water temperatures and nonnative predators such as striped bass.

So there's a lot of yapping, but not much in the way of clarity. And, even though the fishermen have the grievance act down cold, it's unclear why water going to farms hundreds of miles away would effect salmon populations in the Delta. I know, I know. It's aaalllll connected, man; the circle of life; a butterfly flaps its wings in China, etc.

But, it seems Californians have been pumping water to farmers for decades without affecting the salmon. It's only the last couple years that have seen dramatic drops in fish populationt. Are the farmers doing something different? No one seems to know. Could it be (perish the thought) that the fishermen depleted the fish stocks on their own?Or, maybe the salmon finally caught on that spawing season was becoming Fish Apocalypse thanks to relentless overfishing? Certainly, jerk off environmentalists like Miller have spent decades crying (endangered) crocodile tears over various species being hunted and fished to extinction. Anyway, aren't there like salmon farms, where salmon are bred on an industrial scale? Why the hell do we need salmon fishermen?

Obviously, I have little sympathy for Miller and his fishermen. We are talking about choosing between our fellow Californians and some fish. It should be no contest, but that's not the way things work out when the George Millers of the world get to work.

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