02.03.2014 1

Congress needs to act before California’s drought destroys farms

California State FlagBy Rick Manning 

California is in a severe drought as the rainy season never came this year.  With seventeen towns in the state in such dire straits that they may run out of water within two months, emergency measures are being taken to avoid drought ghost towns.

The House of Representatives is considering action to help deal with this emergency by considering a measure that would provide for alternative ways of protecting the Delta smelt – a fish that a federal Court has ruled must be protected even at the cost of the state’s vast food production capacity.

Even without the current crisis, California already faced a “government-imposed dust bowl” due to Endangered Species Act requirements that fresh water be flushed out to sea in an unproven hope that this would help save the endangered Delta smelt.  This diversion of what long-time Californian’s consider their most precious resource has already choked large portions of the state’s agricultural salad bowl.

Now, with the drought worsening and snow packs in the Sierra Nevada range at critically low levels, it is time to put partisan wrangling aside and pass legislation that stops the waste of water while still protecting the fish.

The House of Representatives is likely to consider HR 3964 in the next two weeks, which accomplishes this very fete.  By focusing upon allowing fisherman unlimited takes of natural predators of the endangered smelt, the endangered fish should thrive, allowing the life giving freshwater that is currently being wasted to be returned to the hundreds of miles of aquaducts that feed the irrigation systems in the state’s fertile San Joaquin Valley.

But this is not just a common sense issue, it is also a life saving one.  As small central valley agriculture towns have suffered with unemployment rates above 40 percent due to the lack of water to grow crops.

Rebekah Rast, a central California native, reported in NetRightDaily.com on this issue last year writing,

“Agricultural production in the Central Valley of California accounts for $26 billion in total sales and 38 percent of the Valley’s labor force.  Farmers in this area grow more than half the nation’s vegetables, fruits and nuts.  In fact, if you buy domestic artichokes, pistachios, walnuts or almonds, there is about a 99 percent chance that they were all grown in California.

“But in order for these products to grow, the Central Valley needs water — and the past few years the government has been withholding that vital resource.

“Much of California’s water is pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the federally owned Central Valley Project (CVP) and the California State Water Project (SWP).  To understand the size, scope and capacity of these water systems, with California boasting a population of roughly 37 million people, these two projects deliver water to more than 27 million people.  The CVP alone provides water to more than 600 family-owned farms, which produce more than 60 high-quality commercial food and fiber crops sold for the fresh, dry, canned and frozen food markets.”

Without Congressional action to allow the water to return to irrigate crops, the current drought puts the  agricultural infrastructure in California at risk.   The consequences of Washington, D.C. failing to pass legislation to stop dumping the states water into the Pacific Ocean will affect both the cost and availability for consumers around the nation of the food that will not be produced.

Now is the time to act before this water crisis becomes catastrophic for those who lose their jobs working on farms and for those who consume the food they produce.  It is time for the environmental lobby that has blocked similar measures in the past to embrace the taking of the Delta smelt predators and allow the water to flow around the state.

The House of Representatives is expected to take the necessary steps to throw a lifeline to California.

With two Senators from the San Francisco Bay area, who knows if they will tell their cocktail party environmentalist friends to stop obstructing this needed water bill, or if instead they will tell the rest of the state to pound sand.

The choice seems obvious, but they are San Francisco Bay area liberals, so who knows what they might do?

Rick Manning is vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government and a native Californian.

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