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Boehner vs. fish and Delta farms

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House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, came to the Central Valley on Wednesday to stir an old pot and make the fresh case for farms over fish.

“How you can favor fish over people is something people in my part of the world would never understand,” said Boehner, who is from Ohio and thus revealed his ignorance of both hydrological reality and environmental sustainability while milking the state’s potentially catastrophic drought for profoundly political purposes.

Boehner was on hand to lend support to three Central Valley Congressmen who want to adopt federal legislation suspending the endangered species act, reversing restoration of the San Joaquin River and draining the Delta to water farms in Bakersfield, Tulare and Hanford, among other places, during the drought.

Reducing the drought to a fallacious equation pitting endangered fish against people mocks science and blocks a rational conversation over wise, realistic and equitable solutions to California’s chronic water crisis.

The bill Boehner says he’ll support would protect the interests of some farmers at the expense of others, while placing the future of salmon restoration in even greater peril.

Without emergency legislation, Boehner argued, thousands of farmworkers will be unemployed. But with that legislation, thousands of other farmers and fish would be threatened in what would amount to a Southern California/Central Valley water grab.

And because the GOP is desperate to regain traction with Latino voters, Boehner is clearly pandering to Central Valley farmworkers and their escalating political power.

The bill, which is expected to be introduced in early February, would allow farmers below the Delta to pump more water at the expense of farmers around and above the Delta, while putting the entire Delta ecosystem at ever-greater risk.

Response to the bill from veteran, Delta-area members of Congress, was immediate and scathing. Fifth District Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said, “This proposal is nothing more than a shallow attempt to use the statewide drought as an excuse to steal water from the Delta. It shows zero regard for the fishers, farmers, families and businesses who depend on the delta for their livelihoods, ignores a half-century of established science, guts environmental protections, harms drinking water and will cause enormous economic hardships across the delta region.”

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, pointed out, “The lack of rain, low storage in reservoirs, and low river flows – not environmental laws – are the major causes of low water allocations across the state. Environmental protections in the Delta and our state’s rivers not only protect Delta smelt, salmon and other endangered fish species, but also tens of thousands of jobs in fishing, tourism and farming in Northern California, while also ensuring drinking water quality for millions of Californians.”

And Rep. John Garamendi responded, “If (John Boehner) would like to learn more about smart investments we can make in water recycling, conservation, storage and levee construction that create more water for the entire state, I’d love to walk him through my comprehensive water plan for all California communities.”

We suspect the Speaker is more interested in partisan political capital than finding lasting water solutions. He certainly has nothing to teach California about water.

  • Phineas Worthington

    Maybe the status of CA as largest exporter of water intensive crops like rice should be reevaluated in times of drought.

    • Chris Scott

      Rice does require a lot of water, twice as much as wheat the next highest. But the production of beef requires 8 times as much water per m3/ton, pork 3x, eggs ~2x and poultry requires about the same as rice. Therefore rice uses 1/8th the water as beef production. So you can have the greatest effect in saving water if you stop eating beef. Save the water become a vegetarian.

      Something else to consider, virtual water is the amount of embedded water used to produce agricultural and industrial goods. Agricultural products have water content, i.e., rice, wheat, beef, etc., When these goods are traded, either interstate or exported off-shore, it is a virtual trade of water. The US, Australia, France and Argentina are the four largest exporters of virtual water.

      The conclusion, water is a lot more complicated than just flushing the toilet less.

      • Phineas Worthington

        Many good points with which I agree. The only way to really motivate everyone is to create a water system where everyone has an ownership stake so that they have a selfish motivation to conserve. That is why i advocate private water management and ownership.

        • Chris Scott

          Life, living – everyone has an ownership stake in living which is their selfish motivation to conserve. No water, no life. The cost of water is also everyone’s selfish motivation to conserve, much more so in urban areas where water is metered than in Sonoma,.

          In CA water is a Public Trust established by the legislature to mange the scarce resource for the benefit of all and to balance the interests and demand of the stakeholders, both public and private. Occasionally the people have weighted in the electorally express their views as was the case with the defeat of the Peripheral Canal and plans to dams along the major rivers in northern CA’s Sierras.

          California’s Water Wars, as it’s called, is one of the state’s most infamous and interesting chapters in California’s colorful history and must reading; Wikipedia; California Water Wars. It’s power, politics and money at their best and worst. They made a movie about it’s; Chinatown.

          • Randy Cook

            Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert is probably the best resource for understanding California’s, and the American west’s, history of water use, abuse, rights, and wars. To note the history of water in CA is an important start in understanding how we can live in a drought state and can still have enough for all users and the environment.

          • Chris Scott

            Great book, had forgotten about it. It was turned into a four-part PBS documentary series in 1997, “Cadillac Desert”. Probably could check out a copy from a library rather than buy from PBS.

  • Rogene Reynolds

    Each farming region of California is unique. What you grow depends upon your water supply, climate and soil types. Drought exacerbates the problems caused by trying to put permanent crops in a desert far from the water source. Thanks for the opportunity to comment. Rogene Reynolds, South Delta.

  • The Village Idiot

    Of course he is ignorant, but Ignorance is a key plank in the Republican party platform. But anyone who knows him knows Boehner came here to drink & work on his tan.

  • genebeley6428

    Besides the political pandering, it is cold in Washington D.C. Where would you rather be: in a deep freeze in Washington D.C. or California on a free vacation, paid for by all taxpayers?