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Congressman launches effort to ease ESA
An endangered rat stalls one of Rep. Radanovich’s local water projects

Cecilia Parsons, Capital Press 2/26/09

Frustrated by a law that protects fish at the expense of humans, U.S. Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, has introduced legislation that would lift restrictions on pumping water from the Delta during times of extreme drought.

Radanovich's California Drought Alleviation Act would temporarily suspend the Endangered Species Act on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, allowing irrigation pumps to operate at unrestricted capacity during declared droughts.

The ESA law is being used to protect the Delta smelt, which some environmentalists claim are being killed by irrigation pumps.

Radanovich's bill was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of eight California congressmen.

Radanovich discussed the legislation at the annual Madera County Farm Bureau's Water Conference Feb. 20, where he spoke to about 100 growers.

The announcement was also made on a day when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation declared that no Central Valley Project would be available to westside farmers this year.

Radanovich, who has represented the 19th Congressional District for seven terms, said he has the support from his Valley colleagues and hopes to convince both California senators of the importance of keeping water flowing to farmers.

"I can't guarantee passage, but this is a huge step in an emergency," Radanovich said.

There is a precedent for such action, he insisted. New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici was successful in amending the ESA in that state in a drought situation.

An endangered rat is stalling one of his local water projects, Radanovich told growers. A Madera underground water storage bank is being hampered by ESA regulations and could end up costing more money. The project has the potential to store up to 250,000 acre feet of water.

Radanovich also lauded a law that may help counter some of the restrictions on Delta pumping and water delivery. The Information Quality Act, he said, is being used by some pro-ag groups to put a spotlight on the biological opinions used in making environmental regulations.

Agriculture's water woes are a tough case to make, Radanovich concluded, because they don't have a direct effect on everyone.

"There's no direct connect like gas prices, but when they start rationing water in L.A., that will get their attention," he said.

Besides lack of plentiful precipitation during the last two years, water attorney Gary Sawyers explained how California's water shortage evolved.

Sawyers, who was involved in the Bay-Delta water rights proceedings, said laws written in the '60s and '70s started the ball rolling toward environmental protection. The California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, plus the ESA and Clean Water Act all changed how projects were done in this state.

"Environmental groups have lots of laws to use, and the cards are stacked against water users," Sawyers said.

The agriculture industry should take some of the blame for its current predicament, because it has historically done a poor job in advancing its cause, he said, noting it was short sighted by not supporting the Peripheral Canal in 1982.

"Madera County voted against it 81 percent to 19 percent," he said.

Some farmers are fighting for more water, said Sawyers, but more need to make demands to keep water flowing for agriculture. One group, Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, has filed a lawsuit over illegal pollution discharges by the city of Stockton and San Joaquin County. The coalition, made up of south San Joaquin Valley ag interests, believes there are other, significant causes of Delta smelt decline besides pumps used to move the water out of the Delta.

Farmers need to demand more from leaders and leaders need to take on difficult positions, Sawyers said.

"We have to require our leaders come together, keep trying or else our water is lost and the problem continues," he added.

Cecilia Parsons is a staff writer based in Ducor. E-mail: cparsons@capitalpress.com.
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