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arib | Oct 01, 2009 04:15 PM

All summer long, farmers in California’s Central Valley have complained about their parched fields—one even likened their communities to tumbleweeds about to blow away—and they blame their thirsty crops on fish.  Endangered Species Act protections for smelt and salmon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta limit the amount of water pumped out of Northern California, much of which goes to agriculture.

But these struggling farmers, and others in the West, are getting some attention from Obama’s administration this week.

On Wednesday Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced he would ask the National Academy of Sciences to review the scientific reasoning behind the ESA limits on Northern California water pumping. The LA Times reports:

“State water officials say most of the delivery cuts from the delta are the result of drought—not the fish protections—but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Central Valley congressmen have repeatedly denounced the endangered species restrictions as placing fish above people.”

Salazar asked the academy to find out if there are other fish protection measures that would use less water, but remarked that it was “wrong to blame California’s water problems on environmental regulation.” And one columnist argues that both farmers and fishermen are in the same "dry-docked" boat, since water shortages have heavily affected both industries--keeping farm fields fallow and the salmon season closed for a second consecutive year.

Meanwhile, Hispanic farmers in New Mexico aired their discrimination complaints when U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited Las Cruces, N.M., on Wednesday. Vilsack listened to the concerns of southern New Mexico farmers, who said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency had administered loans and service to white farmers first, causing many Hispanic farmers to lose their land or crops because of delayed loans. Vilsack said he was aware of the situation but that  “his hands were tied by the judicial system,” according to the Associated Press.

A lawsuit filed by farmers in 2000 charges the USDA with “rampant discrimination in the administration of USDA loan programs,” and a court meeting on Oct. 13 will assess any progress in the suit. Plaintiff’s attorney Stephen Hill said the case has been “stonewalled” by the USDA and Department of Justice, reported the AP.

“Each farmer out there had the same story about discrimination,” David Cantu (a Texas farmer) said. “I commend the secretary and we know he is not the cause of these problems. But fortunately, it has fallen on his administration to make it right.”

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