On any typical day, millions of families, farmers and fishermen in and around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta rely on the Delta for their water and livelihoods. Commercial and recreational fishermen have relied on Delta-dependent salmon populations for centuries. The Delta is a vital estuary that supports farmland, fisheries, small businesses and more than 750 plant and wildlife species.
Yet despite the Delta’s importance to families, businesses and communities across our state, some corporate water contractors, their lobbyists and now the House majority are trying to undermine any serious science-based solutions to California’s water challenges.
This week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass water legislation that would kill local jobs, ignore 20 years of established science and overturn a century of California water law. The so-called San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act diverts water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta to south-of-Delta water users. The planned diversion dismisses the best available science, cripples local businesses, repeals environmental protections, hurts fishers and farmers and undermines states’ rights by removing California’s control of its water though federal legislation.
The legislation turns the environmental clock back 20 years, barring any state or federal protections stronger than obsolete and inadequate 1994 Delta flow standards. It dismisses science-based protections for salmon and other endangered species that are required under both California law and the U.S. Endangered Species Act. These broadly supported, science-based protections were established to protect natural resources and promote conservation efforts.
We have seen what happens when science is ignored and environmental protections are gutted for the sake of politics. In 2008 and 2009, due in part to the excessive pumping of water out of the Delta, salmon fisheries were forced to close for the first time in the state’s history. This resulted in the loss of $534 million and nearly 5,000 jobs. Responding to fishery closures in the Delta during 2010 cost our state nearly $63 million.
The water bill before Congress sets the stage for a similar disaster in the Bay-Delta. Proposals to increase diversions of water south of the Delta would create similar low-water flows, causing salmon kills and costing California millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.
At a time when we should be working to put people back to work, we cannot afford water policies that destroy our commercial and recreational fishing industries, devastate farmers and stamp out local businesses that rely on the Delta’s natural resources.
The legislation passed by the House is nothing more than an attempt by well-funded south-of-Delta water contractors to steal water from the north with no regard for the fishers, farmers, families and businesses who depend on the Delta for their livelihoods.
It puts politics ahead of two decades of established science, guts environmental protections and kills local jobs. It should be rejected, and solutions to California’s water challenges should be based on sound science so that our Delta communities, wildlife and environment are not harmed.
Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, represents the 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, represents the 6th Assembly District.