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Confusion in the Water Wars

Of course it's political. That's why we call it a man-made drought, a congressionally created drought.

Feb 03, 2014

It is often frustrating to write about the California water war. Often, people just don't pay attention, taking water for granted. That's bad enough. But, what's even more frustrating is when some finally do get engaged, we can't even get them to fight for themselves. Below is a prime example.

First we have a letter to the editor of the Bakersfield Californian by Fred L. Starrh, a Shafter farmer, expressing his dismay at an editorial critical of a recent news conference by local politicians trying to do something about the politics of water. The editorial board accused those holding the news conference of being 'political'. Duh!!! These are political decisions that need to be made to change the situation created by political decisions. Of course it's political. That's why we call it a man-made drought, a congressionally created drought. Politicians need to correct a politiclaly created mess. That's just the way it is. It would be a lot easier if we only had to deal with God.

As Fred L. Starrh writes in his letter, Kern County and the City of Bakersfield are part of the state water system which delivers water by way of the California Aqueduct. The city gets about 100,000 acre feet of water through its contract. For this they pay $9 million. They pay whether they get the water or not, and this year it's an 'or not' year. The people holding the news conference were trying to fix the problem so that they could get the water they're paying for, yet the local newspaper is editorializing against them!!

Maybe the Californian doesn't want the city to get the water. Maybe they don't mind paying $9 million for nothing. Maybe a lot of things. We don't know. But, we do know this: it's tough to win a war when we can't even get people to fight for their own side.

Fred L. Starrh's letter to the Editor of the Bakersfield Californian:

I am writing in response to the editorial entitled "Don't Use 'Drought Emergency' to Divide Us" dated Sunday, January 26, 2014.

I was amazed and frustrated that our local newspaper took such a negative position on our local legislators, congressmen, and House Speaker Boehner's recent interview. They are making real efforts towards an emergency action by federal legislation to help deliver water. Our state water contract is constructed so that the state delivers our water and forces us to pay for the water, whether we receive it or not.

Kern County water entitlement on the California Aqueduct is approximately one million acre feet of water. The City of Bakersfield's ID4 is entitled to 100,000 acre feet, which costs $9 million for water not received. The agricultural community is 900,000 acre feet at $90 an acre foot, approximately $81,000,000 for no water. All this to be paid with no water delivered.

Your position in your editorial indicates our legislators should not be trying to help local agriculture or our community by holding a press conference to inform the water crisis to the public's attention. You indicate it was just political. I wish to state your position is wrong and your editorial board should be better informed on the impact of taking water for fish rather than people. The state ran 800,000 acre feet of water out to the ocean last year. This water could have been stored in Oroville and could have been delivered to the contractors this year, which in turn could have prevented the state from a "drought emergency". Overall, we paid $92,000,000 for undelivered water, yet the fish paid nothing.

The title of your editorial is a travesty for local agriculture and our community. We ought to look at the water issue more realistically and suupport our local legislators, Congresswoman Jean Fuller, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, Congressmen Kevin McCarthy, Devin Nunes, David Valadao, and thank John Boehner, Speaker of the House, for trying to get emergency water to keep our trees and crops from dying.

Fred L. Starrh
Shafter Farmer


Don't use 'drought emergency' to divide us

By The Bakersfield Californian

The terrifying consequences of California's "drought emergency" cannot be denied: acres of mature, nut-bearing trees dug up; fertile land unplanted; agriculture jobs gone. Some communities are even struggling to provide drinking water for their residents.

But last week's "press availability" that starred three South Valley Republican congressmen Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, Devin Nunes of Visalia and David Valadao of Hanford as well as House Speaker John Boehner, the Ohio Republican, seemed more about politics than about bringing real aid to the emergency.

Using terms such as "idiocy" and "nonsense," they blamed California's management of its water system and environmental protection rules rather than three consecutive, record-setting dry years and a host of competing water-user interests for causing what they called a "man-made crisis."

Boehner even mocked California by noting, "In my part of the world we would shake our heads at how things work here. It's nonsense that a bureaucracy would favor fish over people."

It may be easy for someone who represents a congressional district that receives an average of 41 inches of rain a year to be dismissive of the water wars that have long plagued bone-dry California and that drought has rendered historically grim. But Boehner seems to have forgotten that even in his "part of the world" water wars have long been fought. Consider the years-long dispute among water users and potential water users over fragile Lake Erie.

In much the same way Californians have struggle to implement environmental rules to protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Delta, Boehner's
Ohio, seven other Midwestern states, two Canadian provinces and Congress have bickered over a compact to protect the southeasternmost Great Lake.

So Boehner should know a thing or two about the "nonsense" of a bureaucracy that protects fish and water quality; he should know that when it comes to water, simple answers are exceedingly hard to come by.

The legislation Boehner and the three Valley Republicans are proposing this time as a short-term emergency response was rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate and strongly opposed by state and federal agencies in 2012. Likely the proposed "emergency" legislation will meet the same end this year.

The proposal calls for temporarily increasing pumping in the Delta to 1994 levels if water is available, ending restoration water flows in the San Joaquin River, and establishing a bipartisan emergency joint Senate-House committee to devise long-term legislative solutions.

Valley farmers are hailing the moves. Coastal salmon fishermen say it will destroy their industry. And Delta farmers and environmentalists contend it is a blatant, short-sighted water grab fueled by political contributions from big growers.

Ending San Joaquin River restoration flows is a moot point, since a court ruling already dictates the flows stop after February unless the state receives additional rain and snow. And increasing Delta exports in a dry year could end up hurting both the Delta and water users to the south. It could suck salty sea water into the Delta and into aqueducts that transport water to Valley and Southland farms and cities.

But the lure of politics seems to be too strong to resist dividing Californians at a time when they should be uniting in a search for real solutions. Some even suggest that Republicans can recapture the Valley's Latino vote if they can blame Democrats for prioritizing fish over farms and jeopardizing farm workers' jobs. John Laird, secretary of the state's Natural Resources Agency, was correct when he responded to last week's press conference by noting, "Now is not the time to be divided now is the time to bring people together to find solutions."

The one aspect of the Republicans' proposal that makes sense is the creation of a bipartisan joint congressional committee to find long-term legislative solutions to California's decades-old water wars.

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