06.02.2010 0

A Battle Won

By Rebekah Rast –

After three years of war between fish and man, the farmers in the San Joaquin Valley have finally won a battle.

It has taken three years of fallow fields, seasonally over-priced produce and farmers and their families standing in food lines for the realization to come that humans and their livelihood are more important than a 3-inch endangered bait fish, the Delta smelt. That’s three years too long, but farmers and those needing water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are still elated.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger issued a 126-page decision involving the threatened Delta smelt stating water officials must consider humans along with the fish in limiting use of the Delta for irrigation. This decision comes just days after a similar ruling on endangered salmon in the Delta. The judge was convinced by the arguments of water users that research by the federal government did not prove that increased pumping from the Delta greatly harmed the smelt.

“We are very pleased and very happy,” says Sarah Woolf of California’s Westlands Water District. “It has finally been recognized that what needs to be focused on is the whole environment and how everything is interrelated.”

Judge Wanger’s ruling proves that the environmentalist movement has gone too far. Even though water deliveries to the Valley have been restricted for years, the population of fish in the Delta has continued to decline. Clearly, water deliveries are not solely to blame for fish populations and therefore farmers should not be punished any longer.

The rulings have given farmers of the San Joaquin Valley an extra month of water — until the end of June. There are no pumping restrictions in the summer and more hearings will determine when the pumps will flow and at what capacity for the fall season.

Just because pumping restrictions have been lifted, laws to protect the smelt and salmon are still in place. “If we start to see salmon or smelt in the pumps, we will reduce the water flow,” Woolf says. “We are taking actions to protect the fish.”

As a balance is sought after to protect the fish as well as provide farmers with the water they need, the fact that the judge ruled with the farmers sets a new precedent and gives hope to those affected by this government-imposed drought.

Ruling against the current Administration that has done very little to help the plight of these farmers, except when votes were needed to pass the healthcare legislation, and ruling against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations and the Endangered Species Act, this judge has taken a big step to addressing the needs of the farmers.

Though a battle has been won, the war is far from over. Those opposed to the judge’s ruling are already planning their next legal moves, which may include the case going up to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Also opposed to water deliveries are members of Congress such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA). They will continue to do everything in their power to stop water from flowing to the San Joaquin Valley.

The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Miller as saying, “For 10 years they’ve violated the laws and the science in the name of greed. But we’ve beat them before and we’ll beat them again.” He is referring to farmers of the San Joaquin Valley.

Pelosi isn’t any better. She could easily call on Congress to allow more water to flow to the farmlands of the San Joaquin Valley, but she has made it clear that fish are more important.

What may be the most damaging comes from the Obama Administration. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar originally gave farmers of the San Joaquin Valley only a 5 percent water allocation — a serious blow to the breadbasket of the world.

These are just a few of the opponents that will be faced as the Valley continues its fight for water, but in the meantime, farmers are celebrating their victory.

For those communities in the San Joaquin Valley facing unemployment levels of 40 percent, more water delivery means jobs and will allow these farmers to provide for their families once again.

“This is wonderful news for those farmers,” says Bill Wilson, President of Americans for Limited Government (ALG). “The judge’s decision will allow for more common-sense solutions to the problems facing the Delta.”

Through his ruling, Judge Wanger has shifted the focus in the Delta from a fish to an entire biological system that depends on water. Finally a solution can be found that gives equal balance to fish and farmers.

Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to ALG News Bureau.

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