Senate Water Bill Introduction is a Glimmer of Hope for Water Agencies
FRESNO, CA – Last week’s introduction of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s legislation, the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015, is welcome news for the people of the State of California and the Central Valley enduring another devastatingly dry year. Once again, multiple Central Valley water agencies joined together to express their unified voice in support of an expeditious passage of this Senate water bill. This bill comes on the heels of the introduction and passage by the House of Representatives of H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015.
“We are encouraged by Senator Feinstein’s actions with the introduction of this legislation. There is no time to lose as the damaging effects of the drought continue to wreak havoc on local communities, businesses, farms and farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley and other regions of the State. Immediate solutions are needed, and the District looks forward to working with Members of both the House and Senate to find a reasonable solution that will benefit our great State.”
–Don Peracchi, Chairman of the Board, Westlands Water District
“The South Valley Water Association thanks Senator Feinstein for introducing the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015 and encourages the balance of the Senate to make quick work in passing the bill immediately upon return from the August recess. This is a further important step to get legislation that will help those many farms and communities in California who are going without water. We look forward to the members of Congress resolving key differences between the California Emergency Drought Relief Act and H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015, and finding real water supply solutions. The members of the South Valley Water Association stand ready to assist in any way we can.”
–Dan Vink, Executive Director, South Valley Water Association
“The San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority thanks Senator Feinstein for the introduction of the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015. We realize this is another important step to passing a bill out of the Senate later this year that provides a meaningful legislative solution to the long-standing water supply shortages that is crippling the state. We are optimistic that members of Congress and the Senate can resolve the key differences in this bill, and the previously passed House Bill H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015. The Authority looks forward to working with our legislative leaders to pass legislation that benefits all of California.”
–Steve Chedester, Executive Director, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority
“There is no more important issue facing the Valley than the drought. It is a statewide crisis with the most direct and severe impacts in the Valley. The Kern County Water Agency appreciates Senator Feinstein’s and Senator Boxer’s efforts to help reduce the drought’s terrible impacts by introducing a bill in the Senate that can improve water supplies for farms and cities. We are anxious for the House and Senate to start working on a compromise between Congressman Valadao’s bill and the bill in the Senate, and we encourage the Senate to take swift action on the Feinstein/Boxer bill so that process can begin.”
–Ted R. Page, Board President, Kern County Water Agency
“No area of the State, and perhaps the nation, has suffered more disproportionately the harmful stress of chronic water supply shortages. The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority is appreciative of the effort of Senators Feinstein and Boxer on the recently introduced California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015 bill in the Senate. This bill is not only important to the San Joaquin Valley, but it is also vital for the entire state of California. We encourage the Senate to act swiftly, and encourage both the House and Senate legislators to begin work immediately on a meaningful compromise bill to ensure that long-awaited and much-needed relief is realized.”
–Dan Nelson, Executive Director, San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority
“Friant Water Authority welcomes the introduction of Senate Bill 1894, the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015, and we thank Senator Feinstein and her staff for all their efforts in bringing this bill forward. The immediate task is to pass Senate legislation so that work can begin to craft a compromise with the House-passed legislation. Our farms and communities have suffered more under these water cutbacks than any other area in the nation. Our people are desperate for solutions that will provide real water for our area. This bill is a critically important step in the process of developing compromise legislation that can be signed into law by the President this year. As the bill advances, Friant looks forward to working with our representatives on both sides of the aisle to achieve drought legislation that will provide real relief for the 2016 water year and beyond.”
–Eric Borba, Chair, Friant Water Authority
The following is a statement by Dan Nelson, Executive Director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, regarding the release of water from Trinity Reservoir by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for speculative fishery purposes.
Today, United States Bureau of Reclamation announced it will dump precious Central Valley Project water while the people of our valley suffer from well-documented and widely reported social and economic destruction as a result of government policies compounded by the drought.
While over 2,000,000 acres of farmland throughout the Central Valley, which produces over half of the nation’s fruit, nuts and vegetables, continues to have a 0 percent water supply from the Central Valley Project, Reclamation has determined there is somehow enough water available to let it go down the Lower Klamath River in the hope it may help conditions for unthreatened salmon. This decision is wrong – both scientifically and morally.
At issue is fear about a repeat of a fish die-off that occurred in 2002 – the one and only occurrence in recorded history. It is hypothesized that the die-off was caused by a number of co-occurring factors: over-abundance of returning fish, low flows in the river, and the presence of endemic diseases such as Ich.
However, since recordkeeping of flows and the number of returning fish began in 1978, there have been six other occasions when conditions have been similar to or worse than today and no fish die-off has ever occurred.
Since the once in history die-off, Reclamation has provided additional flows upon request on occasions when a repeat was feared. Initially, Reclamation acquired the water from willing sellers but more recently they have simply taken the water from CVP water and power customers.
Again this year, Reclamation received a request to provide additional flows. However, on July 30 they announced they would not do so because the number of returning fish is far below previous levels of concern and, in light of the severe drought conditions, it is vital to preserve as much water as possible for the future. When Reclamation declined the request they stated they would monitor conditions for the outbreak of disease and if emergency criteria were triggered, they would be prepared to respond rapidly.
Today, none of the environmental conditions upon which all previous decisions have been made support Reclamation’s reversal. The number of returning salmon is still well below the established level of concern. In fact, reports from field biologists, fishing guides and fishermen along the Lower Klamath all indicate that the prevalent fish in the river is steelhead, not Chinook salmon.
There are no reports of any disease outbreak, which was the requisite condition for change Reclamation established just weeks ago. The only condition that has changed is the increase in volume in the voices of a few special interests.
Sadly, Reclamation and the Trinity Management Council squandered the 369,000 acre-feet of water they had available from Trinity Reservoir for fishery management this year. For years, they have been encouraged to set water aside for contingency purposes. This year, like all others, they have ignored that advice and have once again created a completely avoidable crisis.
No one wants to see a repeat of the fish die-off that occurred in 2002. And, our current understanding of the environmental conditions and science strongly suggests it will not reoccur. This makes the uncertainty that is the basis of today’s decision so egregious. Public policy decisions should be based upon a real and substantiated balance of the risks and benefits.
This is what we know – the fish claimed to be of concern are not present in significant numbers. There is no evidence that the disease of concern is present. The emergency criteria developed by Reclamation and federal fish agencies have not been triggered. The potentially bad side effects to other fish and wildlife, some of which are threatened, have not been studied. And, any potential benefits of undertaking this action are purely speculative.
In contrast, the damage being brought to the families, farms, rural communities, and vital wetlands of California’s Central Valley by government policies will continue. Reclamation’s response to the request from people losing homes, businesses, and hope, for even a little bit of CVP water to lessen the crisis, has been consistently no – there simply is not any more to provide. Until today.