April 9, 2011

"Time For Congress to Listen And Act?" Let's hope, for the farmers' sake, they mean it

By "Time For Congress to Listen And Act?" Let's hope, for the farmers' sake, they mean it

Author:  Anne Hayes

On Monday, the House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Water and Power will be holding a field hearing in Fresno, California titled "Creating Jobs by Overcoming Man-Made Drought:  Time for Congress to Listen and Act."  The hearing will be held at the Fresno City Council Chambers from 10:00 am. until 1:00 pm.  Congressmen Doc Hastings (R-WA), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Jeff Denham (R-CA), Devin Nunes (R-CA), as well as other members of the Water and Power Subcommittee.

PLF attorney Brandon Middleton will be attending and live-blogging and tweeting (@PacificLegal) the event if you want to find out what is going on in real-time.  We will, of course, follow up with a summary of our impressions.  Brandon has been representing almond grower Jim Jasper of Jasper & Stewart Orchards, challenging the listing of the delta smelt, one of the fishy reasons for the federal shut-down of water flows in California's central valley.  PLF is also planning to submit comments to the Subcommittee on behalf of Mr. Jasper.

Whether Congress will, in fact, act on what they hear at this field hearing will have to be the subject of subsequent blogs.  In the meantime, it is interesting to note that the Administration has, for several years now, blamed the drought for the majority of the hardship that these farmer's face. (See, for example, this document put out by the Administration back in 2009, called "Reality Check").  In sum, the Administration claims that drought conditions (that is, lack of water runoff) have been responsible for 75% of the cutbacks, and the federal government for only 25% of those cutbacks.

Certainly, there is no dispute that drought conditions have had a concrete impact on the amount of water that contract users have been able to obtain.  But if the administration was correct, how come, in a year in which California has over 150% of normal rain/snowpack (which, by the way, has lead Governor Brown to declare that the drought is over), the feds are saying San Joaquin Valley water users like Jim Jasper are only going to get 65% of their contracted for amount?  The math does not add up: even if rainfall/snowpack were at an even 100%, we should expect 75% of the water, yes?  Is it time for another "Reality Check"?

This is not to say that the feds are the only culprit, but the administration's self-serving report is a little disingenuous.  As those of us in Sacramento, where the American and Sacramento Rivers converge, watch tremendous amounts of water raise our rivers and inundate every flood control facility available as it flows out to the ocean, it's a little hard to accept the simplified explanation that "there just isn't enough water." 

Both the state and the federal governments made a commitment to California's farmers when they entered long-term water delivery contracts with these farmers that have made California's central valley the most fertile farmland in the nation.  That commitment is no less vital to these farmers–and to the rest of us who rely on the food they grow–than a Social Security check is to current retirees who have been given no option but to rely on the government to hold up its end of the bargain.

California's farmers have had a difficult enough time coping with the whims of Mother Nature.  Add Big Brother government's whims to the mix, and the future of California farming begins to look mighty grim.

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