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The Costa Plan

We suspect his problem will come from his own party.

Mar 30, 2011

 

Families Protecting The Valley Newsletter Tell Your Friends about Families Protecting The Valley
VOLUME 2 ISSUE 90

MARCH 30 2011

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Board of Directors

Denis Prosperi
Chester Andrew
Bob Smittcamp
Russ Waymire
John "Dusty" Giacone
Joe Marchini
Mark Watte
Kole Upton
Piedad Ayala
Tom Barcellos
Jim Walls

 
The Costa Plan

Congressman Jim Costa says he will introduce legislation that will increase delta pumping.  He did this without the knowledge or support from Republican Congressmen Jeff Denham or Devin Nunes, members of the majority party.  He will certainly need their support to get this through, which will be no problem if the legislation does what is implied.  The problem at this point is that there is not actual legislation language for us to see.  And if there is a problem down the road it is likely to be in Costa's own party, not only in the House, but also in the Senate where they are reluctant to cross their environmental supporters. 

The articles below are from the Bakersfield Californian and Fresno Bee.  Here are some ed comments from the articles to show the difficulty of getting anything done:
Kole Upton, board member Families Protecting the Valley:  "The devil's in the details in all this kind of stuff"
Johnny Amaral, chief of staff for Devin Nunes:  "Considering that Rep. Costa has repeatedly voted against measures and bills to turn on the pumps in the past two years, I seriously question his motives now"
Jeff Miller, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity:  "nothing more than an end run around the Endangered Species Act"
Mark Rockwell, California field representative for the Endangered Species Coalition:  "I think this is based more on politics than science"
Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations:  "Westlands is the puppet master down there and they are trying to get their hands on every last bit of water salmon be damned"
Devin Nunes:  "Valley Democrats are finally supporting what we've been trying to do for the past four years, although their votes have to match their rhetoric."  

And as the Fresno Bee article points out below, Costa will have opposition from his Democrat cohorts in the House as "Last year, for instance, 11 House Democrats from California, Oregon and Washington vigorously opposed a similar bid by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein to boost San Joaquin Valley irrigation deliveries. Feinstein ultimately backed off her proposal."

So, we wish Congressman Costa well with his legislation providing the devil in the details check out, but we suspect his problem will come from his own party.

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Costa bill aims to increase delta pumping


BY COURTENAY EDELHART, Californian staff writer
cedelhart@bakersfield.com | Monday, Mar 28 2011 08:20 PM


Congressman Jim Costa plans to introduce legislation this week that would increase the amount of water that could be pumped from the delta where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers meet.


Central Valley farmers rely heavily on water pumped from the delta, but their supply has been limited since 2007. That's when a federal judge ordered state and federal officials to cut water deliveries in order to maintain enough flow in the delta to protect spawning smelt.


Environmentalists cheered the ruling because the smelt and the Pacific salmon, also threatened, were dwindling at an alarming rate. But farmers protested, particularly during three subsequent years of drought when many were forced to fallow their land.


Costa, D-Fresno, would modify rules laid out in so-called "biological opinions" on the operations of the water system issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The goal is to make the rules more flexible so that more water could be pumped.


The congressman was traveling Monday afternoon and could not be reached for comment, but he issued a statement.


"Our streets are flooding, our food banks are going empty, and unemployment in the valley is nearing 20 percent. California's water system is broken. We can fix it," he said.


If the bill becomes law, the valley could receive an additional 200,000 acre feet of water that could be available as soon as this summer, Costa said.


Among other things, the bill would increase the level of "reverse flow" allowed in the Old and Middle Rivers. When pumps are turned on, it changes the direction of these waterways, which interferes with seasonal fish runs.


Growers and water districts have challenged the biological opinions in court, arguing they're based on faulty science and don't give enough weight to other factors contributing to fish decline such as pollution and natural predators.


In that case, a judge granted agriculture a small victory when he ruled that economic impact on people should have been given greater consideration.


The Madera agriculture group Families Protecting the Valley says it is tentatively pleased with Costa's proposal, but wants to see its actual language before it celebrates.


"The devil's in the details in all of this kind of stuff," said board member Kole Upton. He's anxious to see if the legislation garners enough support to pass.


Previous bills aimed at restoring pumping in the delta have not survived, including a proposal in a continuing resolution that Costa voted against.


A continuing resolution is a temporary funding mechanism that has been used to keep the federal government going during budget negotiations.


"Considering that Rep. Costa has repeatedly voted against measures and bills to turn on the pumps in the past two years, I seriously question his motives now," said Johnny Amaral, chief of staff for Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia. "But, for the sake of his constituents and the valley, it's better late than never."


Costa said at the time that he opposed the other proposal because it barred the federal government from paying for the implementation of the rules but did not exempt water systems from complying with the Endangered Species Act. That could have exposed the water system to legal action, making a bad situation worse.


There's also the problem of the California Endangered Species Act, said Brent Walthall, assistant general manager of the Kern County Water Agency. It won't help to address problems created by federal rules without also looking at state regulations, he said.


Jeff Miller, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, called the proposal "nothing more than an end run around the Endangered Species Act" and said passing it would reverse progress on reinvigorating the salmon population.


Mark Rockwell, California field representative for the Endangered Species Coalition, said that a joint study by the University of California, Davis and University of the Pacific said most of the economic hardship of the last three years stemmed from the drought, not from reduced pumping.


"I think this is based more on politics than science," he said, adding that commercial and recreational fishing also contribute to the valley's economy and those industries need protection, too.


"Instead of trying to legislate a solution, we all need to sit down at a table and work out something that works for everybody."

 




Costa proposes limits on delta pumping cuts

By John Ellis and Michael Doyle / The Fresno Bee

Rep. Jim Costa on Monday surrounded himself with west-side water allies as he introduced the latest bid to ease environmental restrictions and boost irrigation deliveries from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The Fresno Democrat has proposed legislation that would let farmers secure more water from the troubled delta while still keeping some pumping restrictions in place to protect endangered salmon and threatened delta smelt.

He introduced the bill without the Valley Republicans who now are part of the House majority, and its long-term prospects are unclear.

If approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama, the new rules would be in effect for five years. Costa said that could allow all sides to forge a more permanent solution to the ongoing delta water wars.

"We're trying to fix the delta," said Costa, who made his announcement near a central Fresno canal.

The salmon fishing industry and others who support the salmon and smelt protections, however, say the bill would take needed discretion away from the federal government and could lead to massive fish killings under certain conditions.

Costa's announcement came the same day as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced a higher allocation of water for farmers on the west side of the Valley.

The bureau said Monday that farmers would receive 65% of their water allocation from the Central Valley Project, an increase of 10 percentage points from just a week ago, and 15 percentage points over what had been announced last month.

Yet to come this week: a ruling Wednesday on the latest battle over potential pumping cuts to protect fish.

On Friday, the federal government is scheduled to enact protections for endangered salmon and Central Valley steelhead.

Given the high rainfall this year, it likely won't mean immediate water pumping cutbacks but under the rules, it could happen quickly, west-side farmers and water users said.

Water users including the Westlands Water District are seeking an injunction from U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger to stop the government action.

"The reality is, we're in a crisis," said Westlands General Manager Tom Birmingham.

Birmingham, who attended Costa's announcement, said water allocations set by the federal government are based on a worst-case scenario, which takes into account not just the season's rainfall, but potential pumping restrictions as well.

As long as the more onerous potential pumping restrictions remain in place, the water allocation will remain depressed, he said.

Farmers, in turn, make their planting decisions based on the allocation.

West-side farmer Joe Del Bosque, who participated in Costa's news conference, said if the federal government's water allocation could go from 55% to 70%, he could plant an additional 120 acres each of asparagus and cantaloupes, as well as 500 additional acres of wheat. It would create 25 to 30 new jobs, he said.

Costa's legislation, supporters said, would give the federal government flexibility to increase water projections because it essentially rewrites a portion of the salmon and smelt management plans, known as "biological opinions."

Under the proposed legislation, for instance, pumping cuts could still be enacted to protect the fish, but the reductions could not be as steep. The pumping restrictions are put in place at certain times of the year to protect salmon and smelt.

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, a trade group for commercial salmon fishermen, said Costa's legislation would be a problem for his industry because it could hurt salmon populations.

"Westlands is the puppet master down there and they are trying to get their hands on every last bit of water salmon be damned and the whole coast be damned," Grader said.

The legislation faces an uncertain future on Capitol Hill, where the politics of Western water are complicated.

Last year, for instance, 11 House Democrats from California, Oregon and Washington vigorously opposed a similar bid by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein to boost San Joaquin Valley irrigation deliveries. Feinstein ultimately backed off her proposal.

The Senate, controlled by Democrats, will be a tough road for a bill that is likely to be cast as undermining environmental protections.

The House might be more immediately persuadable, as Republicans enjoy a 241-192 seat advantage over Democrats.

Two theoretical Costa allies who are in the House majority Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, and Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater were not apprised of the pending legislation.

Denham hadn't seen Costa's legislation, but said during a meeting of The Bee's editorial board that it sounded similar to language Republicans tried to into a recent resolution authorizing short-term governmental operations.

"I'm glad he's coming to the table," Denham said of Costa, though he declined to take a position on the legislation until he has read it.

Nunes and Costa, by contrast, have clashed repeatedly over issues including Costa's support for a San Joaquin River restoration plan.

Costa, for instance, has accused Nunes of grandstanding with past California water amendments, while Nunes has said Costa has been mesmerized by environmentalists.

On Monday, Nunes said he was glad "Valley Democrats are finally supporting what we've been trying to do for the past four years, although their votes have to match their rhetoric." He added that Costa voted against the same language in January.

The legislation being introduced this week comes as the House water and power panel chaired by Tom McClintock prepares for an April 11 field hearing in Fresno.
The hearing, to be held at Fresno City Hall, is designed to lay the groundwork for future legislation addressing what the hearing planners call a "man-made drought."

 

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