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A Deal Is A Deal! Or Is It?

This meant farmers couldn't get the water back they had been promised.

May 31, 2011

 

Families Protecting The Valley Newsletter Tell Your Friends about Families Protecting The Valley
VOLUME 3 ISSUE 9

MAY 31 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

 
A Deal Is A Deal!  Or Is It?

If you've been following our newsletters and the local news you know that Congressmen Devin Nunes and Jeff Denham are addressing problems with the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement.  Congressman Nunes has introduced H.R. 1837 (The San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act) which repeals and replaces the SJ River Settlement.   In the article below (A Deal is a Deal), the NRDC's Barry Nelson argues that "After years of divisive litigation, all of the parties to the suit reached an agreement to restore flows and salmon to the parched river."  He goes on to argue that "nearly every major group of agricultural water districts south of the Delta, signed a written agreement, which is often referred to as the “blood oath”.  The "blood oath" meant that all signatories pledged “to oppose any amendments to said Legislation that are not agreed to by all the organizations listed below.  H.R. 1837 clearly includes such amendments."

What you won't find in the article is the sequence of events that actually unfolded as the River Restoration agreement evolved through the Bush and Obama Administrations up to and including its signing in 2009.  There was a time when all parties to the settlement did agree.  Some of our board members were involved in the settlement.  

Without getting too technical, there is a basic storyline you need to know if you don't already.  Farmers agreed that water could be sent flowing down the San Joaquin River to restore it.  It would flow all the way to the delta where it could be pumped back into either new or existing water infrastructure that would allow for the water to be used again by valley farms.  Put simply, the agreement was supposed to restore the river and then recapture the water for agriculture.  When farmers agreed to this they made it clear that nothing was to change in the agreement which held that the two goals were to be viewed by law as equal goals.  The blood oath stated that there wouldn't be any changes:  not one comma, not one dotted i, not anything.  They were leary of agreeing to something only to have it changed within the walls of Congress.

Well, something did change.  Something more than a dotted i or a comma.  In a simultaneous legal case brought forth by the NRDC (one of the blood oath signers) and going on at the same time involving the ESA, the pumps and the Delta Smelt, Federal Judge Oliver Wanger ruled that the pumps be shut off to protect the smelt.  This meant farmers couldn't get the water back they had been promised.  They insisted that the deal be called off.  By this time the legislation was being carried by Jim Costa in the Democratically controlled House and would be signed by Democrat President Barrack Obama.  They asked Jim Costa to pull the legislation.  He refused.  This is why there is a lot of unhappiness with Mr. Costa to this day. 

George Radanovich decided not to run again for Congress in 2010 and Devin Nunes promised that if given the chance in a Republican controlled Congress he would repeal and replace the legislation.  This is what H.R. 1837 is all about.  The NRDC's claims that everyone signed off on the deal are technically true, but they and their Congressional friends chose early on to break the blood oath only now to cry that a deal is a deal.  It would be funny if it wasn't so serious.  Fortunately Congressman Nunes understands this better than most.  
 

To say that a 'deal is a deal' ignores the fact that the deal was not a 'deal'. 

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The San Joaquin River Agreement and H.R. 1837 - A Deal is a Deal

Barry Nelson/Natural Resources Defense Council

Next Thursday, the House of Representatives Water and Power Subcommittee will hold a hearing on perhaps the most radical bill on California water issues I’ve encountered in my career.  H.R. 1837, introduced by Congressman Nunes (R, Visalia), would block federal protections for the San Francisco Bay-Delta, its tributaries and its fisheries.  It would pre-empt state water laws, overturn state water rights and undermine efforts to find solutions to the many challenges facing the Bay-Delta.   One of its many remarkable provisions would overturn the consensus agreement to restore the San Joaquin River. 


The agreement to restore the San Joaquin was an historic moment in California water policy.  After years of divisive litigation, all of the parties to the suit reached an agreement to restore flows and salmon to the parched river.  That settlement contained carefully balanced provisions to make it acceptable to all sides.  Following the settlement, a series of meetings were convened by Senator Feinstein in Washington DC and in California, to negotiate legislative language to implement the settlement and address the concerns of other water interests who were not parties to the settlement.  A much larger group of water users participated in these discussions.  Thanks to the hard work of Senator Feinstein, after several intense weeks of talks, a consensus bill was produced that all sides agreed to support.  


But all of the interested stakeholders took another step to keep this agreement intact.  NRDC, along with nearly every major group of agricultural water districts south of the Delta, signed a written agreement, which is often referred to as the “blood oath”.  That agreement didn’t just pledge support for the settlement and the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act.  In addition, all of the signatories pledged “to oppose any amendments to said Legislation that are not agreed to by all the organizations listed below.”   H.R. 1837 clearly includes such amendments. 


This is one of many reasons why it will be interesting to see what position water users take on H.R. 1837.   After all, water users pledged to fight legislation to interfere with the settlement.  If any of those water users won’t oppose a bill designed to repeal the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act, it would severely damage their credibility in negotiations regarding an ambitious plan for the Bay-Delta.  After all, if water users don’t honor a written agreement on the San Joaquin, why would anyone believe that they would honor one on the Bay-Delta? 

 

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