By: Rich Rodriguez
Four Valley Congressmen have raised their voices in Washington about the Valley's water crisis. Two Democrats have the ear of the Obama Administration, but change has been slow in coming. Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of Tulare has been very vocal about the federal pumps and the Endangered Species Act.
In early June the pumps were reduced to a trickle due to the decline of the Delta Smelt, a protected fish. Nunes said, "it's hard to give anyone hope if the House of Representatives won't pass a bill to let the pumps run.
Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has visited the Valley twice to see how the drought and environmental regulations are impacting the westside. His second trip left farmers and farm workers feeling helpless when he announced that environmental rules in the Delta would not be relaxed. Salazar said, "the reality of this is we do not have those solutions at hand. The pain people felt this year may continue into the future."
Congressman Nunes responded, "the Obama Administration and Secretary Salazar are total phonies and I don't say that lightly. They threaten, they lie, they cheat and they cajole because the fact of the matter they're controlled by this radical environmental element that's headquartered out of San Francisco.
Recently Secretary Salazar asked the National Academy of Sciences to conduct an independent review of how to protect the Delta's ecosystem and provide a reliable water supply.
When it comes to water Congressman Nunes isn't afraid to speak his mind on Capitol Hill. He said, "so not only are we not allowing the Salmon fishermen to fish we are also paying them not to fish. Several hundred million dollars were given Salmon fishermen so they will not fish for Salmon. Meanwhile we have 40–thousand people without work and they get nothing."
Nunes adds, "we have big trouble on the horizon. This is almost like he end of the beginning of the water wars. The Congress failed to act this year and had plenty of chances and Nancy Pelosi and George Miller killed every attempt that we put on the floor to pass something.
Nunes says Congress has dealt with protected fish before in this decade. The Silvery Minnow cut off drinking water to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The House and Senate both agreed that the people of Albuquerque needed water and the environmental rules were relaxed temporarily.
On the other side of the aisle Congressman Jim Costa of Hanford believes it's wrong to make water a partisan issue. Costa said, "what has some of the folks who are shouting the loudest done since they've been in office when their own party was in control of both houses and the presidency?
Jim Costa's family farms on the Westside. He too is a farmer with acreage near Kearney Park. Costa believes the Obama Administration can do more to help growers. He said, "I'm not satisfied with the efforts thus far at the Department of Interior and I'm holding them accountable. They are trying. They do understand this is a crisis. They are constrained by elements of the law. I think they have flexibility in their operations.
Last season growers received only ten percent of their federal irrigation water. Congressman Costa believes there was enough flexibility in the law to provide 30 percent. When it comes to the environmental health of the Delta, Costa says some factors are ignored.
He says, "they involve tertiary treatment. 120,000 gallons a month of ammonia being put into the Delta. Fish don't like to swim in ammonia. The factors of 2000 pumps in the Delta that farmers are using there that pump sometimes as much water as we export south have no screens.
But not everyone in the 20th Congressional district believes Costa is doing enough. Farmer Bill Diedrich says, "I'd like to see a Congressman that's willing to throw himself on the sword. The heck with re–election and the heck with special interests. Think about the economy and people in California. Put that first.
Costa replied, "everyday I'm doing absolutely as much as I possibly can. Now there are certain folks that are trying to find villains in this story. Well Jim Costa is not the villain. Jim Costa has been fighting for water for almost 30 years. I can point to water projects that I have successfully authorized and funded that if not for my efforts would not be a reality today.
Congressman Costa says the reality is the Obama Administration is calling the shots for at least three more years. Costa says he's pushing the Administration as best as he knows how.