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Valley Public Radio Staff
Wed March 19, 2014
Congressional Hearing On California Water Visits Fresno
The House Natural Resources Committee took up the issue of water for San Joaquin Valley farmers today before a packed gallery at Fresno City Hall.
The Republican-led committee heard testimony from local growers and water managers on both short and long-term responses to California's drought and cuts to agricultural water deliveries south of the Delta.
Much of the discussion revolved around two key themes: a call for more water storage in the form of new reservoirs and efforts to roll back Endangered Species Act protections for the Delta ecosystem.
Republican Congressman Tom McClintock said that valley farmers would have had more water this year if Delta pumping hadn't been limited in years when water was plentiful.
McClintock: "The Central Valley suffered from the deliberate diversion of billions of gallons of water promised to it under the Bay Delta Accord. Instead that water was dumped into the Pacific Ocean for the amusement of the Delta Smelt. Now a natural drought has compounded the regulatory drought. And here's the simple truth of the matter. Droughts are nature's fault, water shortages are our fault."
That sentiment dominated the event, which at times was more like a water rally than a typical Congressional hearing.
David Wakefield, a farmer from Cantua Creek in western Fresno County blames politicians and environmental groups from the northern part of the state for his problems and those of other growers.
Wakefield: "We're almond growers, we have about enough water to go to about mid-season, and then, we're dead."
He says it's a hard decision, but he'll likely need to let half of his orchard die to save the rest of his trees.
Wakefield: "I should have sold when the land was worth something, and then when it becomes worth nothing, you can't sell it. Do I have second thoughts? Of course I do. Every day, every night."
But not everyone at the hearing was in agreement. Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla from the group Restore the Delta says farmers on the west side took a risk when they invested in permanent crops.
Barrigan-Parrilla: "I have compassion for people who have built businesses on misinformation. They took gambles with understanding that they are junior water rights holders and that they are only entitled to surplus water. I think that we have to retire the drainage impaired lands on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
She says water shortages this year aren't a result of protections for the Delta, they're a result of mother nature and too much demand for not enough supply.
Barrigan-Parrilla: "The reason why we are having all these problems in California is that the State Water Resources Control Board has permitted five times more in water rights than water that exists in the system in normal years, let alone dry years."
While there was plenty of fingerprinting at today's hearing, Democratic Congressman Jim Costa says that finding a solution to the state's water problem is going to require teamwork and bipartisanship, both locally and between interests in the valley and the rest of the state.
Costa: "If you just do the math, and you're part of the four million people who live here in the valley and you start blaming other parts of the state, that's not going to work out very well."
Costa says he supports efforts to fund more water storage with a new dam on the San Joaquin River at Temperance Flat, and expanding the San Luis Reservoir, as well as improvements to the Delta ecosystem.
It's unclear if today's hearing will result in any meaningful changes for the valley. The Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate have yet to reach a consensus on drought legislation.