Feinstein bridge over troubled water war?

April 10, 2012

By Wayne Lusvardi

Borrowing lyrics from the Simon and Garfunkel song, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., recently has risked building a bridge over California’s troubled water wars. But is her action one of courage or political pandering during an election year?  Is it a permanent bridge she is offering farmers or a pontoon bridge that can be retracted easily?

During a meeting on March 28 of the U.S. Senate Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, Feinstein said that federal water operators should set a “minimum level of 45 percent of contract” for farmers apparently even, during dry periods.  Farmers were set to get only 30 percent of their allocation this year due to normal dry conditions.

Feinstein chairs the committee.  And she was holding a hearing to determine the appropriations for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.  The bureau operates the Central Valley Project that supplies the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.  Feinstein’s gesture could provide a potential administrative solution to a situation that apparently cannot be resolved by dueling pieces of legislation.

Her comments have reportedly made waves among environmentalists.  They fear that farmers would take an extra 15 percent of water in a dry year from the environment. But most of that added 15 percent would probably come from water that flows to the sea and is lost to evaporation.

By guaranteeing a minimum floor of 45 percent to farmers even during “drought” conditions, Feinstein appears possibly willing to seek the “consent of the governed” over the force and fraud typically used in California’s water wars.

A 45 percent minimum water allocation would not give either side what it totally wants. But does it offer a lasting solution or more water warring?

Dueling Water Bills

Feinstein’s trial balloon proposal is important. That is because Feinstein led the battle against farmers in her H.R. 146 bill, the Ominbus Public Lands Management Act of 2009.  That act took water from Central Valley farmers, redistributed it to fishing and recreational interests, raised water rates on farmers to pay for fishing and recreational “restoration” and mandated that the renewal of water contracts would trigger an environmental review for the distribution of mitigations to special interests.

In response, California Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Clovis, got the U.S. House of Representatives to pass H.R. 1837, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act, on February 29, 2012.   H.R. 1837 had bipartisan support with six prominent Democratic congressmen voting for it. However, Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., have vowed to reject HR 1837 in the U.S. Senate.

H.R. 1837 would have unwound the provisions of Feinstein’s H.R. 146.  It also would have provided going back to the bipartisan Delta Accord of 1994, instead of Feinstein’s one-sided H.R. 146. Feinstein’s bill was ramrodded into law in 2009 when Democrats controlled the presidency and a supermajority in both houses of Congress.

Feinstein’s gesture, however, still does not undo H.R. 146. So it is unclear whether Feinstein’s proposal is political pandering during an election year or a “profile in political courage.”

Feinstein’s Flip-Flopping

In 2010, Feinstein tried to increase Sacramento Delta pumping for West Side San Joaquin Valley farmers to 40 percent.  Only later did she drop the idea. Is her call for a minimum 45 percent allocation of water for farmers a repeat performance?

Feinstein has already once has waved a white flag in California’s recent north-south water wars.  She later ended this truce and re-started the water war.
We will find out if Feinstein’s proposal for setting a 45 percent minimum of water for farmers offers a solution, or not, in upcoming meetings of the Senate Energy and Water Subcommittee. A purely administrative change of rules by the Bureau of Reclamation doesn’t offer much of a solution because it can be easily changed.  And such an administrative solution would do nothing to take a law such as Feinstein’s HR 146 off the books.

Should Republicans take over majority control of the U.S. Senate in national elections in November, surely Feinstein’s H.R. 146 would be one of the first pieces of existing legislation that is overturned. Oddly, a Central California Republican congressman’s competing bill, HR 1837, would potentially offer a possible better solution to environmentalists than the prospect of having Feinstein’s H.R. 146 wiped off the books.

Chinese thinker Lao Tzu once wrote that nothing was more flexible and yielding than water. He believed flexibility could overcome force and fraud.  But he was skeptical because, he said, “Everyone knows this, but no one can do it.”  Feinstein knows what to do.  But will she do it?

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  1. Valerie Aubrey
    Valerie Aubrey 10 April, 2012, 10:16

    In northeastern CA at Eagle Lake our water impoundments get their 100% while Eagle Lake gets little to nothing from its main seasonal tributary yet there isn’t enough water going thru the CDFG fish trap for the artificial spawn. Consider yourselves lucky it’s only 45% for you. See the gallery on our site and see for yourselves. Eagle Lake was the jewel of CA now with USFS sewage leaching into the ground water above the recreation area campground’s with no water monitoring and no spawn of our heritage trout cuz the water is held back on Pine Creek for summer grazing under guise of avian habitat Eagle Lake is no longer the jewel she was in the past and has about two years before 2/3rds of the lake will be dry. Nature is only half to blame.

    Reply this comment
  2. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 10 April, 2012, 11:34

    DiFi acts from self-interest and carries the water for the highest bidder. Somebody must have dropped a load of money on her.

    She voted to invade Iraq, she voted for the Patriot Act, she voted to give immunity to communication service companies that wiretap american citizens on american soil, and she voted for NDAA. What else do you need to know?

    The old battleaxe needs to be put out to pasture. She’s done more than her fair share of damage to the nation. Honestly, how productive can an 80 y/o plus Senator be for the nation? Let go of the power, Queen DiFi.

    Reply this comment
  3. waterwonk
    waterwonk 11 April, 2012, 08:20

    45% is a compromise? what about upstream ag contractors? should they get bumped up to 45% too? Sac Settlement Contractors? should they get bumped to 100% (or did the recent rains put the Shasta inflow over the trigger and they automatically get 100%?). Urban contractors? should they get a bump too?

    Now the $15 billion question: if they had the BDCP implemented today, would they get 45%??? Their studies show very small increases in some dry years, and no increase in the driest years. So why should they get more than they would under the BDCP???

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  4. nowsane
    nowsane 12 April, 2012, 10:07

    Terry Anderson wrote Chapter 8, Water Options For The Blue Planet, in The True State of The Planet, http://amzn.to/IrVHYa , in which he highlights the chapter by ending with these two points:

    “Eliminating laws against water marketing and establishing private water rights would give consumers an incentive to use water more efficiently
    Removing legal impediments|to water markets would allow private firms to enter the water supply industry and take the burden off the public treasury. Market forces could pare demand, boost supply, reallocate water, and end the threat of order crises.”
    In the text of Chapter 8, Mr. Anderson describes how both consumers as well as agricultural users seldom pay the true cost of water, and if they had to, they would modify their behavior accordingly. For individual consumers for example, they would likely invest in water-saving technologies, while the agricultural users would likely plant crops which use smaller amounts of water. He goes on to say that “ With California’s population mushrooming from 20 million to 30 million in the past 20 years, the demand for water west of the ninety-fifth meridian is not likely to decrease.

    This entire chapter as well as the entire book should be read by many more so-called “environmentalists” as well most politicians who deal with water issues at either the state or local level!

    Reply this comment
  5. queeg
    queeg 12 April, 2012, 10:55

    Your Enviro Commissars are more than willing to ban central valley food growing, ban dam construction to increase state water reserves and gleefully raise water fees/taxes in urban areas wrecking poor people’s budgets to pay for union pensions…

    Assualts on our lives on so many fronts….anyone awake????

    Reply this comment

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