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San Joaquin River settlement is not worth the risk

, November 12, 2008, Visalia Times-Delta Opinion

If the San Joaquin settlement becomes law, it could force more than 300,000 eastside acres out of production and may cost more than a billion dollars to implement. It would bring the cost of water to well above $100 per acre-foot. In short water years, it would even require farmers to pay for water with a risk of no water delivery.

Irrigation district managers may tell you that it is better to settle this lawsuit now rather than to risk going back to court.

This might be true if we were still dealing with the "original" settlement that was signed in September 2006, which included the water- management goal (recirculation of water from the Delta to our counties), and equal priority given to the restoration goal. The original bill required the federal government to pay for the improvements required to move more water down river channels.

The original settlement between Natural Resources Defense Council and Friant has turned out to be a ruse which allowed NRDC to gain a legal position to extract more water for fish.

With three lawsuits filed against Central Valley water rights since the original settlement was adopted in 2006, we have no certainty that more suits will not be filed to increase water flows for salmon. One such lawsuit, the "Wanger Decision," reduced the pumping in the Delta and ended any possibility that recirculation could be a component of the settlement.

This means that water will run down the San Joaquin River to the ocean, lost forever. This is different from the 2006 agreement, which allowed for the water to be recirculated back to Friant for use on farms and in cities, achieving the second component of the settlement: the water management goal.

The Wanger Decision mandates that pumping out of the delta will be reduced from January to June to the San Luis Reservoir. If this ruling remains in effect, in critically dry years, the exchange contractors could be forced to call on their historical water rights. Friant could suffer the loss of 800,000 acre feet of the water that farmers have relied on in the past.

The settlement will give away 250,000 acre feet of water with no assurance that farmers would not lose future water because of Judge Oliver Wanger-type rulings.

The current bill calls for no Federal funding but will require the federal government to turn the San Joaquin River into a cold-water fishery even though NRDC's own report "In Hot Water" indicates that the water from behind Friant Dam is too warm to support a viable salmon population. Passing this federal legislation would set a historic precedent that would require additional water to be sent down the San Joaquin River if the 500 prescribed salmon do not return.

S27 is set to return to the U.S. Senate Monday for final markup before being sent to the House for a vote of approval. Congressmen Jim Costa and George Radanovich are sponsors of this bill, even though they say they oppose the removal of the funding and the fact that recirculation is not possible in the current bill.

With no scientific proof that salmon will live in a warm-water river like the San Joaquin, why are we willing to set a historical precedent when we could go back to court and fight for a sound and comprehensive water policy?

The detrimental effect of this folly will be further exacerbated by the method which the Bureau of Reclamation has arbitrarily decided to assign water losses. Friant contractors will be required to supply restoration flows based upon their total contract supply rather than what they have historically received. This results in those contractors having large Class 2 water contracts (Fresno Irrigation District, Tulare Irrigation District, Madera Irrigation District, Gravelly Ford Water District, Arvin-Edison Water District, Chowchilla Water District and Lower Tule Irrigation District) suffering disproportionately larger losses than the Class 1 districts. These Class 2 districts represent 67.2 percent of the Friant service area.

If you live in the Friant Service area you should contact your local Friant District board members and ask them how they voted on the settlement in 2006. Ask how they plan to vote on the updated settlement that includes all of these amendments in the next few days. The amended settlement includes no recirculation, no federal funding, no certainty of capping water losses, farmers paying for water in years without deliveries, and priority of funding to Down Stream Exchange Contractors prior to any funding in the Friant Service area.

  • Tal Cloud is president of Sunburst in Fresno and Families Protecting the Valley, www.protectthevalley.org. Contact Cloud at tal@paperconverter.com
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