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Restore fish habitat on the LA River

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POSTED March 11, 2014 12:21 a.m.

Cold water salmon and the Delta smelt.

They are being put at the top of the food chain.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of children of farm workers and those whose parents rely on California’s No. 1 industry to put food on the table will feel the gnawing pains of hunger.

The rest of us from California to the New York island will enjoy substantially higher food prices as supplies of everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to dairy products shrink.

It is the direct result of the environmental perfection movement.

There is little doubt we are in a third year of drought in California. The severity of that drought, however, is exacerbated by politics shaped by environmental perfectionists with the primitive impulses of piranhas that, once they sink their teeth into a target, won’t let go.

The effort to restore fish runs in the San Joaquin River between Friant Dam and the confluence with the Merced River is a prime example.

The Bay Delta Accord reached in 1994 – agreed to by environmentalists, farmers, the federal government and California – put in place a working plan that struck a balance between urban, farm and environmental needs for the water that man captures in the massive Central Valley Water Project and State Water Project.

The lull in the water wars was short lived. Environmental perfectionists reneged on the deal and sued, forcing a settlement in 2006 to restore the river’s fishery. The mechanics of how water is used in California to honor that settlement was formally adopted by the federal government in 2009.

Since then, water shortages have worsened in California.

Cold water salmon, the fish being restored, have not existed on that stretch of river since the 1940s. The experts indicate it will take between 385,000 acre feet of water in a dry year and 1.8 million acre feet in a wet year to re-introduce cold water salmon where they haven’t existed for 70-plus years.

The Bureau of Reclamation last month stopped fish flow releases from Millerton early so that the water taps in the homes of 30,000 people in communities along the San Joaquin River such as Orange Cove and Terra Bella wouldn’t go dry within months. It did not make environmental perfectionists happy that health and safety trumps environmental concerns in federal water law.

Meanwhile, not a drop is going to 15,000 farms that rely on Millerton water to irrigate crops.

It is against this background that those in the environmental perfection movement are attacking Gov. Jerry Brown for declaring a water emergency and suspending California Environmental Quality Act requirements that shifts in water deliveries be studied to death before anything can happen. What is the bottom line of the water emergency? No water will be delivered to 28 million urban users that normally receive water from the State Water Project. Some million acres of farmland normally irrigated with SWP water will not receive a drop. All of the water the state has control over will be used to maintain minimum fish flows.

That’s right. The fish are getting all of the water that man – and not nature – has stored and still that’s not enough for the environmental perfectionists. That’s because they wanted to be able to block emergency water transfers such as the one that South San Joaquin Irrigation District made last month to Tuolumne County. Without that water, almost the entire county would have been out of water by July 1. The environmental perfectionists wanted the water for fish and nothing else.

As for the Delta Smelt, hundreds of thousands of additional acre feet of water a year has been sent into the San Francisco Bay and not to Los Angeles, Bay Area cities or southern San Joaquin Valley farms as part of court orders obtained by environmental perfectionists.

The inability for the state to turn on the pumps at Tracy without an act of Congress or a court order has serious consequences. The pumps remained silent after California enjoyed its biggest rainfall in over a year in the midst of the worst drought in modern history. That means 95,000 acre feet of water that could have flowed south to parched farms and cities instead went out into the ocean. At minimum use, that would have been enough to provide the daily needs of 760,000 Californians for a year.

Making all of this seem even more diabolical is the fact the environmental perfectionists have chosen to prey on the weakest in California, the working poor and farmers of the San Joaquin Valley.

There is a much more egregious and high-profile example of a destroyed fish run in California that makes the lower San Joaquin River look like a model fish breeding habitat in comparison.

The Los Angeles River was destroyed as a fishery in the 1930s. It was done by converting it into a massive concrete-lined channel. Most of the year only treated wastewater and industrial water effluent flows along its bed. And even then it is only a mere trickle.

Why aren’t the environmental perfectionists demanding that the Los Angeles River be restored as a fish habitat? Could it be that they are cowards and bullies that prey only on the weak?

Imagine the blowback from an all-out assault on how the Los Angeles River has been used for the past 80 years in order to restore fish. The amount of diverted water needed for such an undertaking would cut substantially into what’s available for 18.2 million people in the greater Los Angeles Basin.

It would also send water prices sky high and trigger jumps in unemployment.

After all, we heard the politicians say it. We all are Californians and we’re in this together.

 

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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