Salmon vs. Small Farmers?


This is a response to the piece on Senator Feinstein’s amendment to the jobs bill (Feinstein Declares War On Salmon and Fishing Jobs).

I’m no fan of Feinstein, who not only stuffs her and hubby Richard Blum’s pockets with millions of taxpayer dollars and whose response to letters is always the same: “Thank you for your letter concerning impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush. I appreciate the time you took to write and welcome the opportunity to respond….” , but we really know more than you about this…

My understanding of this amendment is that she proposes to increase farm water allocations from 10 percent last year to 40 percent this year and next, an amount that farmers say is the bare minimum they need.

I have been studying the water situation for some time and found that it is a highly complex situation. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are some other things to think about…

One farmer’s letter to his local water organization:

… Many of my neighbors and I have invested in miles and miles of water-efficient drip irrigation – just to see those investments go to waste because there isn’t any water. Others worked for years to develop permanent crops that many environmentalists once said was the right thing to do; today, they’re ripping out the orchards that cost millions to grow because there isn’t any water to sustain them.

I grow cantaloupes. I have invested in developing organically grown cantaloupes. That requires a lot of expenditures to prepare the land properly and to support the labor-intensive cultivation that organic produce requires…

This is what I think about: When the farmers are forced to quit farming, the small and organic farmers will go out of business first. Big agribusiness can survive better and will. Where does that leave us folks that want small farmers to feed our local economy? Maybe the issue should be that big ag should get less but not small farmers. Or is not collecting runoff for water storage a good idea, especially in winter storms when the water just goes out to the ocean?

And there is a some question as to whether  the restrictions do any good.

From an organic farmer in the San Joaquin Valley:

…The storms that have moved across California these past few weeks should be providing relief. But the federal rules won’t allow the state water pumps to run fully. Water that we could be storing to irrigate the fields and provide the thousands of farm jobs that have been lost in the communities here is instead running out into the ocean.

But that’s not the hardest part for the people who live here to understand. The hardest part is that there is no evidence that fish are benefiting from these pumping restrictions. Ever since 1992, when the Central Valley Project Improvement Act became law, the federal government has been restricting the movement of water through the delta to serve the 25 million people who depend upon those supplies. And throughout all of that time, the fish populations have steadily declined.

Yes, Feinstein is probably filling some big agribusiness pocket, but don’t forget the small farmer. Be careful what you wish for.


To find more information about the state of the water wars, here are some places to go:

The Governator’s water package:

The ballotpedia site shows costs, supporters and opponents, notably Wiggins and Chesbro.

There is Lloyd Carter’s website to keep up on water wars.

And then there is this damning press release from the California Water Impact Network::

Oppose Water Bond, C-WIN Board Says
Agribusiness and MWD will kill Delta, and bilk California ratepayers
Unanimously opposing the Governor’s $11.14 billion water bond, the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) Board of Directors urges voters to reject the water bond next November 2010.
“The Governor’s water legislation marks the path to build the Peripheral Canal,” said C-WIN President and Executive Director Carolee Krieger. “And the water bond he signed will soak all Californians for the impacts from the Peripheral Canal. It will kill the Delta’s present ecosystems.
“And Southern California water ratepayers will foot most of agribusiness’s and the Metropolitan Water District’s construction bill. We urge your ‘no’ vote on the bond,” she said.
Building the Peripheral Canal—which would be bigger than the Panama Canal—could cost $53 billion, over $1 billion per mile. “With 14 million California taxpayers,” said Jim Edmondson, C-WIN’s Treasurer, and himself a Mono Lake activist in the victory over Los Angeles in the 1980s and 1990s, “that’s nearly $4,000 per taxpayer in California! It’s bad business and offends common sense.”
About 80 percent of the canal’s water would irrigate selenium-poisoned land in the western San Joaquin Valley at the same time it would take water away from productive Delta soils. Instead, retiring those poisoned lands would free water up to serve the equivalent of two million California households.
The bond contains $2.25 billion for Delta restoration and $1.785 billion for watershed funding in the rest of California. These pork projects bought support of legislators previously opposing the bond.

Just how many “small farmers” are affected? As I understand the current water wars, the Westlands Water District is the primary loser in the cuts. Drive down I-5 and you’re in the middle of it, with signs periodically declaring a “Congressionally decreed depression” for farmers there and piles of slaughtered trees from former orchards. Two ironies here: first, there are still lots and lots of orchards with healthy trees, most of the landscape, in fact, is still being irrigated. Second, if you had driven this route thirty years ago, as I did, you would have seen little but rolling hills sparsely covered in dry grass. Farmers, big ones, have since colonized these cattle lands thanks to cheap water. It was a boom that was bound to have a bust. And it was all publicly financed. If there are small farmers out there — and not giant industrial organic, but genuinely small farmers — let them be counted. But from the accounts I’ve heard over the years, the District is almost completely the domain of giants.

A tip of the fedora to Janie Sheppard, who led me to more information about the California water wars. Thanks Janie.
Here are some facts:
The corporate media has pounded on this story, missing the whole point:
AlterNet: Why Just About Everything You Hear About California’s Water Crisis Is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong
By Yasha Levine, AlterNet
Posted on January 8, 2010
” 60 Minutes’ recent segment on California’s water crisis proclaimed: “You don’t have to go to Africa or the Middle East to see how much the planet is running dry. Just go to California.
The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, McClatchy’s, the Wall Street Journal — all have sung the same tune.
When left, right, print, broadcast and mainstream media outlets agree, it has to be true, right? Well, not exactly. Here’s what an end-of-the-year update published in November 2009 by the US Bureau of Reclamation had to say about the drought: precipitation in 2009 was about 94 percent of average in Northern California, which is the most important region for precipitation, since it is where three-quarters of the state’s water comes from.”…
So it seems you have to go hunt the ether to find out what’s really going on. Big corporations own the media. What is amazing is how much sloppy reporting exists.
Big corporations are telling Feinstein to turn on the pumps and Feinstein says this will create jobs. Horse Pucky.

From one of the most informative sites
The Chronicles of the Hydraulic Brotherhood
the Westlands is the biggest agricultural irrigation district in America.5 At nearly 1000 square miles, the Westlands is still dominated by a few pioneer dynastic families although congressional backers of the San Luis Unit half a century ago promised that 6100 small family farms would be created if Northern California
river water was brought to the desert on the West Side of the San Joaquin
Valley (Valley). The promise was never kept, and the larger landowners
are still in control.. There are few farms under 500 acres. Rule is by the rich. Indeed, in Westlands, which is a public agency, the growers with the most land have the most votes in electing directors to the district‘s board. The late Justice William O. Douglas called this voting control by the big growers a corporate
political kingdom undreamed of by those who wrote our Constitution.
Then of course, the water board sells water back to the people (taxpayers) at a higher rate than they paid because of their subsidie of water.
Another good site:
This is a University of the Pacific site written by Director of the Business Forecasting Center and Associate Professor, Eberhardt School of Business.
He tears into all the water myths of the Delta so you can begin to sort out what the realities are about.
So Thanks to Rosalind Peterson, Redwood Valley, We should call Senator Dianne Feinstein to stop her from dismantling the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) basic protections for California’s endangered chinook (also known as king) salmon.
Here are some key points to make:
Tell them your name and city in California
Ask the senator to withdraw the amendment in the jobs legislation that would increase pumping from the Delta. Tell them that suspending Endangered Species Act protections could be the end of the west coast salmon fishery, which supports thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity.
And quit subsidizing her rich friends…Spread the word…
Thanks again for helping me learn more, Janie and Rosalind.
— Michael Laybourn