The compassion of Westlands

Submitted: Aug 06, 2013
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

  

 

The Endangered Species Act Protections briefly took center stage at the Delta Water Summit at California State University, Fresno. Westlands Water District manager Tom Birmingham said the law is being applied without regard to people's lives — especially farmworkers.

"You wind up putting people in a food line to protect a fish no bigger than my little finger," Birmingham said. – Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee, August 5, 2013

 

"If we don't take action, we expect that fish species will further decline, there will be even tighter restrictions on water pumping, and we'll see much lower annual water deliveries than today," Cowin said.

Westlands officials, who have not yet approved funding for tunnel construction, say the thought of further cutbacks scares them the most. "The alternative of not taking action ... would be extraordinarily high," said Jason Peltier, the district's chief deputy general manager. – Gosia Wozniacka, Merced Sun-Star, August 4, 2013

The west side threw a “Delta Water Summit” in Fresno last weekend to say that
Westlands Water District, which now claims to serve 700 growers in its 600,000-acre service area instead of the 600 usually mentioned, has decided to fully support Jerry Brown’s Delta tunnel project.

This was news to no one but a few news persons.

What was news however is a phenomenon we call the Compassion of Westlands for the farmworkers living on the west side, who drink bottled water and get rashes when they take showers because the groundwater has been contaminated by … Westlands growers. We were must gratified to read in the Fresno Bee how Westlands General Manager Tom Birmingham really cares for the farmworkers. Westlands cares so much for farmworkers that it will even pay a day’s wages to a farmworker to come to water meetings in Fresno and carry signs made by other Westlands employees that show how farmworkers also support Jerry Brown’s twin-tunnel approach to ruining the Delta, so much more flamboyant that Westlands’ steady sucking on the pipe these many years.

 

Then there’s that little fish that Westlands officials, farmers and the media dare not name.

 

The Delta smelt is going extinct and the idea that a set of tunnels under the Delta connecting directly into the North-South canals down the west side of the San Joaquin Valley are going to help is just another Jerry Brown “idea”: it’s not original; there is little evidence the people of California are willing to vote the funds for it; it will turn the Delta into a salty slough; it is a great boon to the agribusiness plutocracy and Southern California developers; it won’t stop the west side soils from salting up so badly they can’t be farmed; the tunnels are just another boondoggle project.

How a reporter can dateline a story, "FIVE POINTS  Calif." without a glance at housing and living conditions for the farmworkers who live there is ther only real news in all these phony "stories" created by the mainline media to shore up the sinking fortunes of an agribusiness combine will, by the end of it, possibly make the west side uninhabitable even for the coyotes and roadrunners. 

Badlands Journal editorial board

 

 

 

 

 

8-4&5-13

Merced Sun-Star

Call for water policy reform at summit…Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2013/08/05/3147416/call-for-reform-at-summit.html

A crowd of about 500 applauded often Saturday as San Joaquin Valley water leaders called for change in policies that drastically limited their irrigation supplies this year, resulting in many barren acres of farmland.

Northern California fish protections this year added to drought problems and left federal water contractors with a 20 percent allocation from the sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The Endangered Species Act Protections briefly took center stage at the Delta Water Summit at California State University, Fresno. Westlands Water District manager Tom Birmingham said the law is being applied without regard to people's lives — especially farmworkers.

"You wind up putting people in a food line to protect a fish no bigger than my little finger," Birmingham said.

The gathering featured a discussion of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan for the delta — the state's ecologically damaged water crossroads. Water is pumped at the delta for 25 million people and 3 million acres of farmland.

The conservation plan proposes two huge tunnels and broad ecosystem restoration. It is supposed to restore the delta's health and provide more reliability for water deliveries. The tunnels would divert river water for residents and farms before it enters the delta.

The ecosystem restoration would bring back nature and help dwindling fish species, such as the delta smelt and chinook salmon.

The tunnels were discussed at length, but the farm-dominated crowd wanted to talk about the environmental protections at the delta.

'Too much talk about the fish'

"There's too much talk about the fish," said Daniel Ochoa, 18, of Fresno. "What about people?" Activist Chris Acree, executive director of Revive the San Joaquin in Fresno, was the only support for opponents who call the conservation plan a "tunnel plan." Acree defended the Endangered Species Act and other environmental protections.

"I think we're talking about a false choice — fish versus people," he said. "The Endangered Species Act protects us from ourselves. If the water quality is not good enough to keep fish alive, it shouldn't be used on farms." 

 

8-4-13

Merced Sun-Star
Powerful Calif. water district backs tunnel plan…
GOSIA WOZNIACKA, Associated Press

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2013/08/04/3146424/powerful-calif-water-district.html

 

 

FIVE POINTS, Calif. — As a giant harvesting machine uprooted and sucked in hundreds of tomato plants a row at a time, Dan Errotabere contemplated massive strips of bare land on his farm.

"Everything we have in our operation is under duress," he said, looking at a stretch of fallow acres once covered in garlic, onions and other crops.

Errotabere and hundreds of others who run massive farms in California's Central Valley have left tens of thousands of acres barren this year after seeing their water supplies severely curtailed. He and the other members of the nation's largest federal irrigation district say the restrictions are hindering their growth and jeopardizing their future.

As a result, the powerful Westlands Water District, which comprises 700 large-scale operations spanning 600,000 acres in western Fresno and Kings counties, has become one of the loudest proponents and top financiers of a twin tunnel project that would provide a new avenue for shipping water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta south to farms and cities.

Westlands has fought for years to get more resources from the delta for the farms it represents, making its presence known in the state's water wars with numerous lawsuits against environmental regulations that have cut into their supplies.

District famers see the intervention as critical for their survival, particularly the latest push for the tunnel system. While other agricultural and urban water districts in California have also faced reductions, Westlands' members see their situation as more precarious, because their district has junior water rights and faces the sharpest cuts when supplies are tight.

"Dry years in farming, you learn to live with it," Errotabere said. "But it's hard to invest into operations, equipment and labor if you don't have a reliable water supply."

Without the tunnels, farmers say, more of the fruits and vegetables in grocery stores across the nation will come from foreign countries where food safety regulations aren't as strict as U.S. requirements.

Critics, including environmental groups that oppose the project, say the tunnels might not restore Westlands' dwindling water supplies, yet could further harm the fragile delta ecosystem and cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Some say parts of the district should be allowed to permanently die off because Westlands farmers have relied for far too long on cheap federal water to overplant thousands of acres of water-intensive trees on salty land with substandard groundwater.

"These guys are at the end of the line, and they're always trying to put themselves at the front at the expense of other water users and the fish," said Tom Stokley, a water policy analyst with the nonprofit California Water Impact Network.

Once dominated by cotton growers, today Westlands — which includes Harris Farms, one of California's biggest operations, and Tanimura & Antle, the nation's top lettuce grower — grows nearly 60 different crops, from fruits and vegetables to nuts, with a total value of $1.6 billion.

Westlands members have seen water deliveries cut by 40, 60 and even 90 percent in recent years as the delta ecosystem's deterioration triggered Endangered Species Act regulations to protect fish and limit delta pumping. Other water districts saw mostly smaller reductions.

The districts poured millions of dollars into a planning process for a new conveyance project. Last July, Gov. Jerry Brown announced his support for the project they came up with: a 35-mile long twin tunnel system coupled with a massive habitat restoration effort.

Critics say the project's costs are too steep— for water users and for taxpayers. Water districts would put up $16.8 billion for tunnel construction and mitigation. Another $8 billion for restoring over 100,000 acres of floodplains and tidal marsh would come from state and federal funds and water bonds, with little certainty of how the project would affect fish.

"This is a very expensive project that will impose billions of dollars of costs ... and it's not sufficient to meet the fish recovery standards; some of the species could be worse off," said Kate Poole, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Poole said federal contractors such as Westlands are already behind in paying back the costs of existing irrigation facilities. On top of construction costs, state projections show that tunnel water would be extremely expensive for users: at least double the current price of water.

And how much water Westlands would see is uncertain. State officials say that if fish species don't recover or don't recover quickly enough, less water would be pumped through the tunnels. Climate change could further restrict pumping.

Most likely, the tunnels would deliver the same amount of water as existing facilities do today, said Mark Cowin, director of the state's Department of Water Resources. In dry years, when fish are most stressed, the tunnels would actually deliver less water, he said. In wet years more could be delivered, and excess would be stored if there's space in the reservoirs, he added.

Without the tunnels and the habitat restoration efforts, Cowin said, California's water situation will get much worse.

"If we don't take action, we expect that fish species will further decline, there will be even tighter restrictions on water pumping, and we'll see much lower annual water deliveries than today," Cowin said.

Westlands officials, who have not yet approved funding for tunnel construction, say the thought of further cutbacks scares them the most. "The alternative of not taking action ... would be extraordinarily high," said Jason Peltier, the district's chief deputy general manager.

For Errotabere, a third generation farmer who has invested in water-saving drip irrigation, more cutbacks would mean hiring fewer workers, buying less equipment and contributing less to the local tax base.

"It's kind of like if you had a building and had only 20 percent of your power," Errotabere said, referring to his water deliveries being slashed to 20 percent this year. "We're a food basket, we grow everything, and we're going to be sitting idle."

 

8-5-13

Modesto Bee

Study estimates $5 billion benefit from Delta water tunnel project

By Matt Weiser

http://www.modbee.com/2013/08/05/2846717/study-estimates-5-billion-benefit.html

An economic study of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to build two giant water tunnels in the Delta estimates the project will generate a net $5 billion benefit to the state, along with 1 million new jobs.

The study on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan was released Monday. The plan itself is expected to be released to the public in draft form by Oct. 1.

"The result is clear: Achieving the water supply reliability goal of the BDCP is crucial to California's economic future," John Laird, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, said in a statement.

Critics swiftly attacked the study, noting in particular that it relies on rosy water delivery scenarios that may not prove feasible. To obtain permits under state and federal endangered species acts, the project must demonstrate that it not only protects imperiled fish species, but also restores them. This may require reduced water diversions from the estuary and more natural outflow to the ocean.

In addition, the project's actual ability to deliver water will not be known until after it is built, because the Brown administration intends to use a "decision tree" process to determine safe deversion levels later. As a result, many of the assumptions used in the economic study may prove to be wrong, said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

"The whole thing falls apart if BDCP doesn't deliver any more water," Jennings said.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is estimated to cost $25 billion. It calls for two giant tunnels that would divert Sacramento River water from three new intakes proposed near Courtland in Sacramento County. Water customers that benefit from the project, mainly in the San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles metropolis, would pay for it in increased water bills.

Key project goals are to protect endangered fish from current diversion pumps near Tracy, which lack modern fish screens. The project seeks a 50-year operating permit from state and federal agencies under habitat conservation plan regulations. Supporters say this will stabilize water diversions from the Delta, which are volatile today due to annual adjustments to protect salmon, smelt and other imperiled fish.

The 1 million new jobs identified in the study come from presumed employment increases triggered by these more reliable water deliveries.

The project also calls for more than 100,000 acres of habitat restoration in the Delta, and the economic study calculates many benefits from this work. But the restoration is not guaranteed, because it depends on $4 billion in funding that state voters would be asked to approve in two future bond measures.

The study can be found online at: http://ht.ly/nEobp.



 

 

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