PLF Liberty Blog: Live from Fresno for hearing on man-made drought


Author: Brandon Middleton

I am in Fresno this morning for the House Water and Power Subcommittee Hearing on California's Man-Made Drought.  I will be live blogging today's proceedings–this live blog is a first for me (and for the PLF Liberty Blog, I believe), so my apologies in advance for any hiccups that may occur.

Stay tuned this post for developments from the hearing, and if you're in Fresno, feel free to say hello (I am seated at the far end of stage left, one of the few with a netbook)!

10:00 AM: All the officials are being seated, so it looks like we're about to get started.

10:02: Rep. McClintock calls the hearing to order.

10:04: Opening remarks from Rep. McClintock.  Emphasizes "government's decision" to shut off water. Notes wettest year for a while, but that SJ Valley (west side) only getting 65%.  Calls out environmental activists for ignoring science and opposition to projects that would allow for more fresh cold water supplies for Delta. 

10:04: McClintock continues by noting goal from today's hearing to is allow crafting of legislation that would allow for greater abundance of water.

10:10: Rep. Napolitano offers her opening remarks.  Calls for "balanced approach" that would help us all.  Says "real solution is complicated and requires compromise."  "Let's work together to find a solution."

10:13: Rep. Hastings, doesn't appear his microphone is working.  Notes Pacific Northwest dependence on irrigation and similar litigation issues.  Suggests that Republicans were not able to bring these issues to full house when GOP was minority.  Today's hearing is first start in process for legislation for "long-term, predictable" solution.

10:17: Rep. Costa's turn for opening remarks.  Regulatory framework is "flawed" and notes harmul effects of biological opinion, and that nothing has improved since issuance of biops.  Rep. Costa is going through list of what he has done in order to address and help regulatory drought situation.  Notes that serious questions: re: biops have been raised by Judge Wanger and by NAS.  We have a "broken water system," regulatory framework is not helping produce more food, or saving fish.

10:22: Rep. Denham's opening remarks.  "Make no mistake: this crisis has been created by current regulation, and can be fixed by Congress and the President today."  Notes that President Obama has yet to see devastation caused by regulatory drought.

10:25: Rep. Garamendi.  "We're going to have find a middle ground here."  The ESA "can work."  No reason it can't work in Delta.  Notes extraordinary "conservation steps" that have been taken.

10:27: Rep. Costa  Nunes (I believe he is not a member of committee but was given a special invitation to hearing).  Notes that calls for "middle ground" means "sell your farms because the water is not coming back."  "They continue to come after our water and they don't stop."  Sen. Feinstein "has lied to me twice" regaring water.  Here comes a video.  Video is on "salmon bailout," from CBS News.  Nunes is only Rep. to receive applause so far.

10:35: First speaker is food bank representative (unfortunately I did not get her name).  Discussing drought distributions from past couple of years and sad stories that went along with distributions.

10:45: Farmer speaking now (again I failed to get his name), he is from Tulare.  Notes dwindled reliability re: water supply.  Farmers were promised in San Joaquin Restoration Agreement that water management and fish restoration would be "co-equal goals," but that has happened so far.  His 75% allocation figure remains "disturbing" in a year with likely flooding.  No longer sees Reclamation "as a partner."

10:50: My thoughts so far–no clear theme yet, perhaps it is failures of past Congress action and inaction.

10:55: Kole Upton (farmer and also w/ Chowchilla water district).  Notes significant amount of water taken away from farmers, but nothing has changed–calls for a standard to meet before water is taken from anyone.  Another call to replace San Joaquin Restoration Act.  Also notes that folks in charge of CA hi-speed rail are not taking into consideration needs of farmers.

10:5558: Contra Costa County Board of Supervisor speaker, on behalf Delta county supervisors.  Notes importance of Delta.  Notes concern with HR 1 and items that would "arbitrarily" block environmental protections.  Suggests that Congress should allow NAS studies to be completed and calls for "scientifically based approach."  Calls for increased storage south-of-Delta.  "Bay-Delta must be protected and restored."

11:01: Larry Collins is a Bay Area salmon fisherman.  "I am an angry man."  "We haven't been able to fish for past three years."  Discussing recent history of salmon decline.  "Rhetoric" from west-side is "toxic."  "There is no more water."  "You've gotten way more than your share of water," and it's time to give some back.  "The more water you take out of the system, the more you guarantee the death spiral of our industry." "We need to get balance back." 

11:05: Tom Birmingham, Westlands Water District.  "Irony" of discussing drought given wet hydrologic conditions."  For past 20 years, federal restrictions have hampered ability to deliver water.  Impacts of recent biological opinions and in addition to CVPIA, have reduced water reliability from 92% to 45%.  Addresses comments re: overall good year in 2009, refuges got 100% of supply and west side got %10.  "This is not a joke, and it is not a game."  These regulations "have done absolutely no good for the fish." Notes point from Judge Wanger–everyone who is interested in this issue all deserve better, calls for Congress to provide better direction on how ESA is implemented.

11:11 Jim Beck, Kern County Water District.  Notes that the ESA has cost State Water Project 1.5 mil. acre-feet in the past three years.  First mention (if I recall correctly) is BDCP-"best and only hope."  One of BDCP's hindrances is ESA.  Thinks Sec. 10 ecosystem approach is good but stands in contrast to species-by-species approach in Section 7 ESA.  Notes also Sacramento area pollution as a cotributing factor to situation.

11:17: Mike Connor, Commissioner of Bureau of Reclamation.  Notes that 2011 water conditions have improved, and that biops will likely have little impact to water operations.  Says concern re: 75% figure is understandable. (Mr. Conner is speaking extremely quickly, but so far has said nothing particularly noteworthy or controversial.) Calls for "long-term and comprehensive water solution" and suggests that BDCP is best way to go about doing it.

11:23: Rep. McClinctock to Birmingham, asks question whether there "really is no more water."  Birmingham notes that California's water infrastructure is an incomplete project.  Says integrating two projects would be good idea.  Agrees with Upton that "reasonable and beneficial use" standard should be used to govern allocations to environmental interests. After follow-up from McClinctock, Birmingham says beneficiaries should pay for water projects, but who are "beneficiaries"? 

11:26: Rep. Napolitano. Yes or no.  Have water restrictions affected agricultural production? Yes, all around.  Her follow up: focuses on high agricultural sales–why isn't there a translation for ag-related unemployment?  Farmers right note impact on west-side, which may be difficult to other Cal. areas.  Asks Connor how could 100% allocation be achieved?  Connor says it would come from north-of-Delta or Delta water users.

11:32: Rep. Hastings' turn for question. Rep. Hastings question for Collins and Birmingham.  Has chart on Pacific Decadal Osciillation and Spring Chinook Salmon and suggests that there is correlation.  Birmingham says decline of Sac. River Chinook fishery has been attributed to increased pumping, but has there been increased pumping, and how do we excline decline in runs throughout Pacific region? Pumping in delta does not explain decline, ocean conditions are a better indicator.  Collins says ocean conditions are a factor, as are pumps, but there is "nothing you can do about ocean conditions."  Birmingham agrees with Collins that Delta "is lethal" for baby salmon, but the question is how, and what factors. Hastings concludes by suggesting that ocean factors be considered in situation.

11:40: Rep. Costa is focusing on ammonia and increased popultion and pollution in Delta.  Focus on numerous factors affecting fish. Asks NOAA official re: differing standards for allowing take and catch re: salmon.  NOAA official says we're trying improve pop. of juveniles, and parents get back.  Calls on Collins for tone re: farming and agriculture.

11:45: Rep. Denham asks about costs of San Joaquin Restoration Act implementation.  Connor notes that cost-benefit analysis has not been completed on implementation, but suggests that implementation is part of settlement agreement.  Says cost-benefit analysis not called for re: fisheries implementation.

11:48: Rep. Garamendi.  This hearing "is a good example of why we don't get very far."  Asks Contra Costa official county for input on how situation can be improved.  She says there should be greater emphasis on protecting Delta levees.  Garamendi says that those in favor of peripheral canal should be "realistic" and think about next 10 years.  Beck (KCWD) says bank has reached capacity, Rep. Garamendi says this suggests need for greater storage.

11:53: Rep. Nunes asks Connor if Obama admin. would allow temporary waiver of ESA restrictions pending completion of study.  Connor says he can't give any "notion of support or non-support."  Asks about silvery minnow waiver; Connor was Senate counsel during that time.  Birmingham says that Connor testimony is not entire story.  Birmingham notes that initial allocation are based on projections on worst-case scenario.  Nunes points out that waiver was allowed for Congress in past.  Nunes notes for the record that "it was the government that stopped fisherman from fishing, not the pumps."

12:05: Rep. Napolitano asks farmers if Reclamation is not a "willing partner," why not build projects yourself?  Farmer: trying to get any project approved difficult.

12:15: I am taking a quick break here to catch my breath.

12:17: Rep. Costa questions for Beck, Kern County Water District.  Asks questions about water bank capacity and about what long-term solutions be.  Beck says good progess has been made, but difficulty w/ federal administration is that federal employees in DC have not been as easy to work with as those in CA.  Birmingham response to Costa question: San Joaquin Valley has lost 1 million acre-feet of water annually, which has gone to fish, and this does not include environmental restoration programs.

12:21: Rep. Denham asks Upton more about San Joaquin Resoration Agreement and how much has been spent towards water storage, Upton says he's not aware of any.  Connor notes that Reclamation is working on seepage issues now.

12:27: Rep. Garamendi introduces charts re: salmon crash. Solution is going to require "toning down of rhetoric" and "a lot of money."  Where is money going to come from, he asks.  Calls for "conservation everywhere–I mean, everywhere." "We need storage facilities," and "studies are the cheap part."  We need to recognize that "climate has changed."  "The era of plenty, well that's a challenge."

12:31: Rep. Nunes asks salmon fisherman whether he would allow for catching of non-native striped bass.  Vague answer from salmon fisherman.  Nunes now asks Contra Costa official about peripheral canal issues.  Does Contra Costa County take any responsbility for Delta issues?  CC official says there are many stressors, "it's just not one thing." Nunes asks about Hetch Hetchy allocations.  CC official takes no position.

 12:37: Rep. McClintock is closing up the hearing and invites all present to provide their perspective.

That's it for the hearing, back to Sacramento!  Thanks everyone for tuning in.