California has been deluged with rain and snow this winter, but its epic tug of war over water rages on, this time in the form of a plan by U. S. Senator Dianne Feinstein to divert more water to the state’s farmers.
Feinstein has infuriated environmental activists, fishing groups and even fellow California Democrats by drafting federal legislation that would allow more water to be pumped out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for growers in the state’s Central Valley.
Drastic cutbacks in irrigation supplies this year alone from both state and federal water projects have idled about 23,000 farm workers and 300,000 acres (121,400 hectares) of cropland, according to University of California at Davis researchers.
“I believe we need a fair compromise that will respect the Endangered Species Act while recognizing the fact that people in California’s breadbasket face complete economic ruin without help,” Feinstein said in a statement.
California farmers produce more than half the fruit, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States.
The senator has not released details, but she said it would grant farmers in the state’s agricultural heartland up to 40 per cent of their federal water allocation for two years.
Irrigation districts contract with the state and federal governments to deliver a certain amount of water to them each year. But shortages have recently kept them from getting their full allotments. Most farmers got just 10 per cent of their contracted allocation in 2009 and could get less this year.
The cutbacks were forced by water shortages stemming from a three-year statewide drought and delta pumping restrictions imposed to protect imperiled salmon and smelt populations.
Fishing groups say draining the delta is the main reason for a crash in salmon populations that may force closure of the state’s commercial
salmon fishery for a third straight year, and that Feinstein’s plan would worsen the situation.
“She’s basically saying, ‘I’m going to go ahead and give these big water guys … the water and screw the coast,’” said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.
Grader said the collapse of the salmon fishery has put 23,000 people out of work and cost $1 billion in the commercial and recreational fishing industries of California and Oregon.
Meanwhi le environmental groups warn that the bill could destabilize California’s long-term water supply by damaging the delta’s fragile ecosystem.
The state supplies more than 25 million people and over 750,000 acres (300,000 hectares) of farmland with water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, fed by rainfall and snow-melt run-off from the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Water fight: An aerial view of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in California is shown in this April 15, 2009 file photograph. California has been deluged with rain and snow this winter, but its epic tug of war over water rages on, this time in the form of a plan by U. S. Senator Dianne Feinstein to divert more water to the state’s farmers.