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Dan Bacher: Costa introduces legislation to strip ESA protections for Delta fish


By: Dan Bacher

May 12, 2013 - Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA) has introduced legislation to exempt the Central Valley and State Water projects from Delta pumping restrictions required under the Endangered Species Act to protect Central Valley salmon and Delta smelt.

Costa claimed the "More Water and Security for Californians Act" would "significantly increase" the water supply in the Valley and growers who receive water from the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP) would see greater "water security."

According to the bill text, "Beginning on April 1 and ending on May 31, rates of pumping at the C.W. ‘Bill' Jones Pumping Plant and Harvey O. Banks Pumping Plant shall not be reduced pursuant to the biological opinion of the National Marine Fisheries Service."

"After 2 dry years and a 20 percent water allocation, now more than ever is the time for real solutions to our broken water system," said Costa. "The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is the long-term solution, but there are actions we can take now to bring more water and jobs to our Valley."

"This bill is about giving relief and economic security to all Californians," he stated. "There is no time to wait. Politics cannot stand in the way of a sensible solution to the devastation our region has experienced year after year. We need to get this bill to the President."

Costa claimed the bill will:

• Provide Congressional direction to implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA);
• Restore "operational flexibility" to California water projects; and
• Provide "reasonable protection" to threatened species.

The bill also proposes to "establish a fish hatchery program or refuge to preserve and restore the delta smelt in collaboration with the Governor of the State of California," as well as to implement a "habitat program" to "ensure the viability of" at risk species and threatened and endangered species.

Costa's bill is supported by San Joaquin Valley water districts, including the Westlands Water District, Friant Water Authority, and the San Luis and Delta Mendota Water Authority. Other backers of the bill include the Latino Water Coalition, an agribusiness "Astroturf" group, and Paramount Farms, owned by agribusiness tycoon Stewart Resnick, the largest orchard fruit grower in the world.

"The enactment of this legislation will provide much needed certainty for farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley," said Tom Birmingham, Westlands Water District General Manager. "This year, Westland Water District lost 195,000 acre feet of water because of restrictions imposed under the Delta Smelt Biological Opinion."

"Had this legislation been in effect, Westlands would not have lost this water and our allocation this year would be 40 or 45 percent compared to the existing allocation of 20 percent," he concluded.

Environmental groups, fishing organizations, Indian Tribes and fishing groups, who support the restoration of Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations, strongly oppose Costa's legislation.

Restore the Delta quickly responded to Congressman Jim Costa's call to eviscerate Endangered Species Act protections for salmon and Delta smelt.

"Congressman Jim Costa's call to restrict the Endangered Species Act gets to the heart of the problem with current management of the Delta, as well as Governor Brown's Bay Delta Conservation Plan," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. "Five times more in water rights has been promised to water takers than what exists in the watershed. Rep. Costa's solution is to simply further deprive the largest estuary on the Pacific Coast of the Americas, the Delta and the San Francisco Bay, of the water it needs to protect salmon, halibut, crab, and anchovy fisheries."

"Governor Brown's plan is to build twin tunnels to send the best water to water takers and to dress the plan up as a conservation plan. In both instances, we see that our state's political leaders do not have the courage to deal with the fact that we in California are pushing up against hard limits on our water resources," she stated.

Barrigan-Parrilla said more than 50% of the Delta's fresh water has been exported for years now, leading to the crisis with Delta fisheries. "Taking more water from the system, through the existing pumps or through Brown's pipes, will deal the final death blow to the Delta," she said.

She also pointed out how this legislation will not only hurt fish, but will harm family farming operations on the Delta.

"It is clear from his statement that Rep. Costa, like his Central Valley Congressional Colleagues and the Brown administration, has no regard for the water quality and quantity needs to support the 500,000 acres of prime Delta farmland which is farmed by California's oldest family farms," said Barrigan-Parrilla. "Delta farms produce a much wider array of produce to feed Californians than the corporate agribusiness growers on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley who take 2/3 of the Delta's fresh water supply each year to grow almonds to ship to China. Depriving Delta farmers of the flows they need, through unlimited exports at the current pumps or Brown's tunnels, will lead to the largest transfer of private wealth in the history of California as the corporate farm economy will be propped up at the expense of the Delta family farm economy."

She emphasized that there is a "better solution" for California's water crisis. "Reduce water exports from the Delta to protect Delta and coastal fisheries and farms; fix Delta levees so that the Delta can continue to share a sustainable water yield; fix the existing pumps so that fish populations can be better protected; and, most importantly, invest public dollars in a myriad of local water projects throughout California so that we can make more water to meet our many needs," Barrigan-Parrilla urged.

To find out more about the real story behind the peripheral tunnels being proposed to divert the majority of water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, here's the link to Restore the Delta's new video/TV/YouTube ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gV_cm-UnxKA&feature=youtu.be


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