December 14, 2010

Saber rattling from The Sacramento Bee

By Saber rattling from The Sacramento Bee

Author:  Damien M. Schiff

Over the weekend, The Bee ran an editorial criticizing agricultural water interests from the Central Valley and Southern California for unfairly burdening Sacramento with an unwanted upgade to the city's sewage treatment system.  The gist of the piece was that water interests were using manufactured science and political influence to make northern Californians pay for the negative environmental effects of water exports to the South from the Sacramento Delta.

On Thursday, that investment in hired-gun research and public relations paid off for the exporters. The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board slapped a new permit on the Sacramento plant that could force the region, during tough economic times, to invest $1.3 billion to $2 billion in removing ammonia and other pollutants over the next 10 years.

It's only fair that Sacramento pay its fair share to help the Delta. Yet it is far from certain that full ammonia removal would result in measurable benefits for imperiled smelt and salmon. Those fish face a range of threats – from unscreened water diversions to farm runoff to the massive state and federal pumps that move water to the south. 

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What The Bee editorial fails to acknowledge is that water users in the Central Valley and Southern California recognize that their activities do have environmental costs, and that they are more than willing to pay their fair share for the water they use, as well as to ameliorate the negative environmental effects of water exports.  But these last several years have made plain that, at least as far as the environmentalists and the federal government allege, the water users are the chief and even sole cause of the Delta's problem.

That's flat wrong, as even The Bee recognizes.  But who can fault farmers and Southern California water users for wanting to make northern Californians pay for their fair share?  No major water user from the South that I am aware of contends that sewage discharge is the only cause of the Delta's problems.  The importance of an integrated solution to the Delta's problems is paramount; namecalling and bickering, however, won't get us there.

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