Green water grab sinks farmland, blocks salmon runs

Dec. 11, 2012

By Wayne Lusvardi

An Indian proverb says, “A bird thinks it a favor to give a fish a lift in the air.”

In a similar way, politicians think it is a favor to help lift salmon upstream to feed commercial fishing, tourist, real estate development and environmental jobs programs by calling it a “river restoration project.”

In the Indian proverb, the bird eats the fish.

For the politicians, the special interests that back them eat the taxpayers’ redistributed money and the farmer’s water.

The Fresno Bee reports that Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s $1 billion showcase water project, the San Joaquin River Restoration Project, has run into an unanticipated problem of land subsidence ironically caused by the project diverting water from farmers. Fifteen percent of San Joaquin river water has been diverted from farmers to restore seasonal water flows during the late summer when the river runs dry.  This water diversion would allow salmon to again swim up and down river to the spawning grounds and the ocean.

Farmers in another part of the San Joaquin Valley also lost water when the National Resources Defense Council’s bogus lawsuit to protect the smelt fish resulted in a court-ordered shut off of water for farmers from 2007 to 2010.  Thus, farmers had to shift to using groundwater to keep crop production up and continue to pay off debts on their farm operations.

Sack Damn

Now it ends up that the pumping of deep groundwater under layers of clay soil has caused the ground surface to slump in the San Joaquin Valley.  This subsidence has lowered the ground surface in the area of Sack Dam. Fish ladders and a system to lower and raise the dam so fish can pass through are planned as part of the San Joaquin River Restoration Project.  Land subsidence lowers irrigation canals and thus reduces the amount of water that can be conveyed.  In the interim, salmon have had to be captured and hauled upstream by biologists near Fresno until the fish ladders and dam lowering system can be re-designed.

Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition reports that farmers along the San Joaquin River have had their fields flooded as experimental flows of water have increased the amount of water released from Friant Dam as part of the river restoration project.  A compound loss of water and flooding means a reduced food supply and higher food prices.

River restoration project is like climbing a tree to catch a fish

The $1 billion San Joaquin River Restoration Project is essentially a project to create a system of river parks that eventually can be planted in the middle of farmland to incubate a future tourist and commercial salmon fishing and tourist economy for the San Joaquin Valley. But coldwater salmon do not thrive in the habitat of the San Joaquin River in the hot summer. And fishing and eco-tourists may bring foreign bacteria into virgin farmlands that may contaminate crops.

The river restoration project would result in about 11,000 short-term union construction jobs and an overestimated 450 permanent tourist-related jobs projected to emerge in 2025.  There is no funding from Congress for this project, other than the $88 million included in the 2009 original authorization for environmental studies and planning.  The House of Representatives opposes the project and has zeroed out discretionary funding for it over the past two years. The project will soon run out of money and will have to stop.

The only potential source of funding is robbing farmers of water and adding a surcharge on federal water deliveries for the project by court order.  But this will result in a loss of 3,000 permanent farm jobs.

Feinstein’s San Joaquin River Restoration Project will cost $2,275,789 per permanent job created.  Even worse, it will create 650 nonprofit jobs that will be dependent on government funding. This is in addition to the hundreds of government jobs necessary to complete and operate the project.

Biologists and environmental planners continue to feed on jobs to cart fish upstream and plan a river restoration commercial tourist project that neither the federal nor state government has any money for without further going broke.

All the over-hyped political marketing and media coverage about the San Joaquin River Restoration Project are like another Indian proverb that says: “To talk and arrive nowhere is the same as climbing a tree to catch a fish.”

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  1. The DA
    The DA 11 December, 2012, 11:21

    And how many reporters are parked outside of Diane Feinstein’s office to get her explanation and/or reaction to this complete debacle?

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