Feinstein's Water Bomb

California senator takes aim at Delta fish protections


Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is preparing to introduce a legislative rider that would dramatically reduce Endangered Species Act protection for salmon and other fish in California. The amendment would lift restrictions on the amount of water that farmers can pump from the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta for the next two years. But it could also scuttle a delicately negotiated effort to balance protections for endangered fish with the water needs of farms and residents of Southern California.

Feinstein’s effort comes as the state seems bound for the third year of an emergency fishing ban to protect dwindling salmon runs, and as populations of the Delta smelt and other fish continue to crash. And the move is a remarkable turnaround:  Just four months ago, Feinstein denounced Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, for trying to introduce a similar amendment at the behest of California water districts.

Feinstein's office declined repeated requests for details and comment yesterday, but insiders familiar with the matter say that the Senator’s reversal is largely due to lobbying by the Westlands Water District. Last year, after three years of drought, the federal government cut water deliveries to many irrigation districts in the San Joaquin Valley. Westlands, which is the largest district of its kind in the nation, was hit the hardest, and saw its supply of water from the Delta dwindle to just 10 percent of the amount it holds contracts for.

Westlands is "a coyote with its leg in a steel-jawed trap," says Jason Peltier, the district’s chief deputy manager. “Short-term, we’re going to pursue every right and legal avenue we have to protect ourselves.”

But pushing aside the federal pumping restrictions intended to protect threatened smelt and endangered salmon would solve only part of the district’s problem. Fish-related restrictions account for just 15 to 20 percent of the cutbacks, according to an independent analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California. The vast majority of the water shortage is due to the drought. (For an in-depth exploration, see Breakdown).
Westlands' battle against the pumping restrictions has nonetheless reached a heart attack-inducing pace. Last week, the district led a confederation of farm-water agencies in asking federal district judge Oliver Wanger to order the federal government to run its Delta pumps at maximum capacity. That helped capture the surge of water delivered by a massive winter storm, but the reprieve lasted just six days before the government had to throttle down its pumps. On Wednesday, Westlands and other water users asked Wanger to order that those pumps be started up again, but the judge denied that motion.
Then, on Thursday, Sen. Feinstein announced that she is considering an amendment that will essentially do what Judge Wanger would not. Feinstein’s office has not released a final draft of the rider, which the Senator intends to attach to the jobs bill now before Congress. Sources who helped craft the amendment say that it won’t be a flat-out waiver of Endangered Species Act protections — but, for fish, the rider may be even worse than an outright waiver.
Under the current endangered-fish restrictions, the federal government  can dial its pumps up or down within a specified range to respond to changing conditions. Yet the government, Peltier says, has tended to be overly conservative. "We have been hoping for the regulators to exercise some discretion," he says. "But they just default to the most restrictive levels possible."
Feinstein's rider would force federal officials to keep the pumps floored at the highest levels currently permitted. Westlands spokeswoman Sarah Woolf says that would allow water agencies to pump an extra million acre-feet of water out of the Delta during the winter and spring. If that's true, it would mean that, based on the Public Policy Institute of California’s analysis, Feinstein's rider would allow irrigation districts to pump twice as much water from the Delta as they could were the current fish protections totally eliminated.

Lane County, Oregon's successful management of water issues
marty weiss
marty weiss
Feb 18, 2010 10:54 AM
Lane County, Oregon brought the Willamette River back from a paper manufacturer's sewer to a bounty of salmon and trout. They basically did it by enacting land-use ordinances. It was controversial at first and many land owners were limited from further development and increasing population concentration. The new regulation limited development to current levels at that time. Water-quality and pollution controls brought the salmon and trout back.

If California wants to preserve its quality of life in an already overpopulated and industry-laden climate, land-use ordinances may be mandatory. While the issue of species extinction is critical, the other side of the equation is population and industry. Clearly wildlife has given all it can and remain viable. Something's got to give, and I think it must be limits on population, development and industry.
If they don't enact limits, nobody's going to want to farm, do business or live there anyway-- and only scavengers like coyotes, gated communities and the desperately poor will be able to.
zoning vs environment
Feb 18, 2010 02:37 PM
Feinstein's turn saddens me because of it's future implication. I have been waiting and hoping that southern California would begin to see itself as a desert state. We would stop trying to make our yards into hawaii or ohio and accept water budgeted landscaping. Instead of politicians being willing to go against the lawn. Why must we sacrifice the environment to maintain some 50s vision of our residential identity? I for one would appreciate an opportunity to relandscape my yard, to be fed based on my yards rainfall, and then have those saving returned to the environment. We need new ideas, not desperation. The priorities are health, environment, then profit. I think Feinstein needs a reminder that their are changes we can still make and this short term gain for westlands will be a hge sacrifice for us all. Look at Brad Lancasters' work. We have options, but we need political will to bring them forward.
Robert Laybourne
Robert Laybourne
Feb 18, 2010 03:17 PM
Feinstein has now joined all those senators from the other side of the aisle in being demonstrably a hypocrite.
Feinstein's "Water" Bomb
c minor
c minor
Feb 20, 2010 06:08 PM
How embarassing for the world of professional women to see a so-called role model roll over, play brain dead and otherwise
re-enact the predicatable behaviors of other unscrupulous politicians.
Overpopulation and Water
Earl Babbie
Earl Babbie
Feb 22, 2010 06:44 AM
We should get used to stories like this. As long as population growth is allowed to continue unchecked, the fight for water will intensify. The salmon will die out because of this short-sighted decision. What will we do when there is not enough for both agriculture and people? Cut back on agriculture and go hungry or cut back on water and go thirsty?

Or, I know, stop having so many babies. They're just going to want water and food, and eventually there won't be any.
The real problem
Dave Simmons
Dave Simmons
Mar 08, 2010 10:11 AM
The real problem is that we are sending millions of acre feet of water to the ocean and it is not helping fish or people. In fact the fish populations are worse off now than when first started pumping rstrictions. The Endangered Species Act is way out of whack. It sacrifices people on the alter of eco-nazism. Today they take away our water, tomorrow they take your water.
Diane Feinstein needs a wake up call
Felice Pace
Felice Pace
Mar 07, 2010 11:19 AM
Diane Feinstein has again demonstrated that when it comes to a choice between progressive principles and corporate money she will always choose corporate money. In short she is a Republicrat, that is, a Republican masquerading as a Democrat.

California Democrats are overwhelmingly progressive and strongly environmental. We have put up with Feinstein for far too long. The time has come to mount a progressive challenge to her rule. This should happen in the next primary election in which she runs. And, while it will likely take more than one election to unseat her, there is no better time to begin than now. Ms. Feinstein must learn that she will either reflect the values of Progressive Californians or will be asked by the voters to step down.