Thursday, June 16, 2011

Witnesses Slam HR 1837 Water Grab in D.C. Hearing

Witnesses Slam HR 1837 Water Grab in D.C. Hearing

by Dan Bacher

Witnesses in a Water and Power Subcommittee hearing held in Washington D.C. on June 13 exposed the many severe flaws in HR 1837, the San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act introduced by Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA).

Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), who called for the hearing, described the bill as "a radical Republican water bill which would usurp California’s water laws, roll back California’s environmental protections, overturn California’s water rights system to the benefit of a few powerful agricultural users, and set precedent for litigation against other states’ water rights."

A diverse coalition of fishing groups, Indian Tribes, family farmers, conservationists, environmental justice advocates and Delta residents opposes the legislation for helping to engineer the extinction of imperiled populations of Sacramento River chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, Sacramento splittail and other speices. Tribes opposing the legislation include the Yurok Tribe, Winnemem Wintu and Modoc Nation.

“This radical legislation threatens California’s ability to manage its own water and protect its environment,” Napolitano said. “Its provisions would damage our environment, undercut decades of agreements and ongoing negotiations to improve our water supply, and almost guarantee the extinction of California’s salmon industry and damage our economy. By allowing a select group of agricultural users to bypass state environmental regulations, this bill overturns our state water rights system upside-down, pushing the costs of future droughts, climate changes, and environmental needs onto the backs of water users and taxpayers across the state.”

Napolitano said HR 1837 overrides state water and environmental regulations, threatening California’s fragile ecosystem and pushing the cost of environmental protection onto other senior water rights holders.

Bill will destroy California salmon

Members of the subcommittee heard testimony from California salmon fisherman Dave Bitts, whose industry experienced 100% unemployment in 2008 and 2009 from lack of salmon and lost millions in revenue.

"H.R. 1837 would eliminate many of the protections now in place for Central Valley salmon – in the San Joaquin River and the Bay-Delta Estuary," said Bitts, president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA). "It undermines efforts at protecting and recovering the Central Valley’s listed salmon species. It jeopardizes the restoration and productivity of fall-run Chinook populations."

"It likely will destroy California’s salmon fishery and the jobs of thousands up and down the coast who depend on this resource and the fishing communities this fish supports," he stated.

Pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta kills young salmon as they swim out to sea, contributing to the decline of the salmon population. HR 1837 waives pumping restrictions for the Central Valley Water project and would lead to more die-offs in order to gain more water for junior water rights holders.

“Any solution to California’s water and environmental needs affects the rest of the West,” said Tony Willardson, a representative from the Western States Water Council. “We wish to reemphasize the States are primarily responsible for the management of their water resources.”

No Delta representatives were invited to the previous hearing on HR 1837 held by Representative Tom McClintock. However, at this hearing Stockton attorney John Herrick of the South Delta Water Agency was invited to speak against the bill.

According to Alex Breitler of the Stockton Record on June 14, "Herrick told the committee that several agencies have determined more water must flow through the estuary if the ecosystem is to recover. H.R. 1837 would take responsibility for providing those flows away from those who export water from the Delta, he said."

“H.R. 1837 limits the amount of water that one group must provide and thus shifts the burden for additional water to everyone else," Herrick testified. "'Everyone else’ just happens to be all of the superior water rights holders in California. All will now be subject to decreased water supplies because the junior-most parties are limited, if this passes, in what they have to contribute. That’s a monumental change...It completely undoes the water rights system in California.”

Representative Nunes skips hearing on his own bill!

Representative Devin Nunes, the bill's sponsor and the darling of subsidized corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, was a "no show" at the hearing on his own bill McClintock claimed that "no new arguments" were raised in the hearing.

However, Barbara-Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, responded, "HR 1837 would harm people in his district as much as it would harm people in the Delta. It seems the Congressman is a plant for Southern California interests who want to faciliate the water grab from the north part of the state."

The hearing took place as one of the largest fish kills in California continues to take place at the state and federal pumps on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Personnnel at the Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) pumps in the South Delta have reported “salvaging" more than 6 million Sacramento splittail in the past six weeks and more than 51,000 imperiled spring-run chinook this year.

Caleen Sisk-Franco, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, urged everybody concerned about salmon, fish and water rights to actively oppose HR 1837.

"When people are not paying attention, bad bills like this get passed," said Sisk-Franco, whose Tribe is working to return native winter run Chinook salmon to the McCloud River above Shasta Lake. "It seems that Westlands is the only winner of 'water rights' in this Bill! Make your voices heard and tell your Representives, Congressmen and Senators to STOP this horrible bill."

“This misguided and destructive effort could trigger another round of water wars,” Napolitano concluded. “We must hear from all of the Californians who share our water supply and improve our water supply to the benefit of all of California.”

Background on HR 1837

If passed, the San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act would:

• Harm the environment by rolling back the water contributions that the Central Valley Project makes to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to 1994 levels, ignoring environmental changes in the Delta and additional endangered species that have become threatened in the intervening 17 years.

• Waive environmental impact studies for new water contracts in the Central Valley Project and extends current 25-year contracts without any environmental review for a minimum of 40 years. Because the contracts are exempted from contributing water for the health of the Delta, under current law other Californians will have no choice but to make up the difference when future droughts, climate changes, and environmental needs tighten the available water supply.

• Turn California’s water rights system upside-down, exempting these same agricultural interests from contributing water to help desperately weakened commercial fisheries and allowing them to use or sell water that would otherwise go to the fragile Delta. This favoritism upends California’s water rights system and reduces supply for other water users who continue to play by the rules.

"The purported reason for the bill is to help unemployment in the Central Valley, yet respected California economists Richard Howitt and Jeffrey Michael have debunked claims that pumping restrictions have had any major effects on the Central Valley’s economy, and the bulk of unemployment is due to the bust in the housing market," noted Napolitano.

Documents in opposition to bill:

Letter of opposition from leaders of the California State Legislature, (Speaker John Perez, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, Senate Natural Resources and Water Chair Fran Pavley, Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Chair Jared Huffman, and Assembly Natural Resources Chair Wes Chesbro):
“H.R. 1837 undermines judicial agreements, erodes long-standing water law principles, usurps California’s sovereignty, and lays waste to any hope of progress in the Delta.”

Editorial from the Contra Costa Times:
“[This is] unbalanced legislation that would undermine key environmental protections for the Delta and flush the work of many dedicated individuals down the drain.”

Letter of opposition from 12 different fishing industries:
“There are no words strong enough to describe the complete devastation this bill would bring to the Central Valley salmon runs and those who depend on them for their livelihoods, recreation and food sources.”

Letter of opposition from Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar:
“This legislation would undo ongoing broad-based collaborative initiatives that have been underway for many years to solve some of California’s most significant water issues.”
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