Boehner vs. fish and Delta farms

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.