After protesters in Fresno June 18 accused him of not doing enough to support San Joaquin Valley growers in their battle to export more water from the imperiled California Delta, Gov.Arnold Schwarzenegger amped up his campaign to build the peripheral canal and more dams and affirmed his opposition to increased protections for salmon and other fish.
“We need to rethink the Delta, fix the Delta, and build a canal around the Delta,” he said, in pushing a project that would cost an estimated $12 billion to $24 billion at a time when the state budget deficit is the largest in California history and thousands of teachers, health care workers and game wardens face layoffs.
“If you start choosing species, and the smelt and salmon over people, I think you’re wrong. I think it’s a mistake when you see the impacts that it has.” – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Schwarzenegger, who appeared at a meeting and press conference June 19 in Mendota, emphasized the necessity to build Temperance Flat Reservoir on the San Joaquin River and Sites Reservoir on the west side of the Sacramento Valley. “Dams need to be built,” he said. “We need above ground storage, below ground storage, new infrastructure.
“We urgently need a clean, reliable water supply, and I am committed to getting comprehensive water reform done once and for all. We must invest in our future, protect our precious resources and protect the state of California.”
He also again slammed the court ordered federal biological opinion, released June 4, that directed the state and federal governments to change export pumping operations out of the Delta to avoid jeopardizing the continued survival of Sacramento winter run and spring run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, green sturgeon and the southern resident population of killer whales.
“I think the judge’s decision is wrong,” Schwarzenegger said. “If you start choosing species, and the smelt and salmon over people, I think you’re wrong. I think it’s a mistake when you see the impacts that it has.”
Schwarzenegger again repeated the false claim by Westlands Water District and corporate agribusiness giants that the biological opinion chooses “fish over people.” The conflict is in reality between restoring salmon and other fish populations and the thousands of jobs they support and keeping in production drainage-impaired land in the west side of the San Joaquin, land laced with selenium that should have never been irrigated.
The governor also requested a federal disaster declaration from President Obama for Fresno County and issued an Executive Order, activating the California Disaster Assistance Act.
“By taking this action, the state will be able to provide temporary supplemental assistance to the local governments and nonprofit organizations that supply food and other aid to those who are impacted by the drought statewide,” read a statement from the governor’s office. “The order also waives the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance.”
“California’s Central Valley is our nation’s agricultural engine and unemployment here is devastating the economy and hurting the people of California,” Schwarzenegger said. “These are dire circumstances – no water means no work – and no work means people cannot feed their families. This drought is truly an emergency, and the actions we are taking today show how government can still work for the people when they need it most.”
In February, Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency due to “drought” conditions statewide and ordered “immediate action to manage the crisis.” However, his “drought” claims were revealed to be not quite accurate when the actual hydrological data was reviewed.
The latest reports out of the Department of Water Resources and Bureau of Reclamation actually show that water supply in most parts of the Central Valley will be in excess of 80 percent of average levels. For example, Central Valley Project deliveries to the Westlands Water District, regarded as the “Darth Vader” of California water politics by fishing groups, environmental organizations and California Indian Tribes, were forecast to be zero as recently as March. In spite of the claims of imminent disaster by Schwarzenegger and corporate agribusiness, the district now expects to use 86 percent of average annual supplies this year.
As Schwarzenegger was campaigning for a peripheral canal and more dams, members of the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley tribes were holding a salmon bake on Ocean Beach in San Francisco to kick off the SalmonAid Festival being held in Jack London Square June 20 and 21. They announced their strong opposition to the governor’s cynical attempt to link Klamath River dam removal to an enormously expensive water bond that includes a peripheral canal and more dams.
“It takes a movement to un-dam a river, and the SalmonAid Festival helps us expand that movement beyond the Klamath to all of California and the West Coast,” said Georgiana Myers, Klamath Riverkeeper Community organizer and Yurok tribal member. Klamath Riverkeeper is working with tribes, fishermen and others to remove four aging dams on the Klamath River, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Corporation that block struggling salmon runs from more than 300 miles of habitat.
Klamath River stakeholders are looking to the festival to inform Californians about the need to support Klamath dam removal – and to caution against tying the project to the construction of new dams and a peripheral canal around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta as a proposed general obligation water bond would do.
“The Klamath dam removal deal has received support from Oregon with Senate Bill 76, and now we need Governor Schwarzenegger to step up,” Myers said. “California must support Klamath dam removal on its own merits.”
A mixed response from environmental groups
Environmental groups gave mixed reviews to Schwarzenegger’s speech and news conference in Mendota June 19, praising him for issuing an executive order to deliver federal assistance to those in need, but criticized him for exaggerating the role of the “drought” in the high unemployment that is currently hitting the Central Valley.
“We applaud Governor Schwarzenegger for issuing an executive order to direct much needed financial aid to those in need in the Central Valley,” read a release from Tina Swanson of the Bay Institute and Cynthia Koehler, Laura Harnish and Lori Sinsley of Environmental Defense. “We wholeheartedly support getting economic relief to those in the Valley and throughout California that are in urgent need of food and shelter. Relief should also be directed to salmon fishermen along the California coast, whose industry has been shut down for two years as a result of the state’s ecosystem collapse.”
However, the groups said that to blame the Central Valley’s unemployment problems on a court decision that reinforces regulations designed to protect fisheries on the brink of extinction is to “misdiagnose the problem.”
“In reality, unemployment in the Central Valley has historically been high even in non-drought years and is currently exacerbated by the worldwide recession and precipitous decline in housing construction,” they said. “No doubt the drought plays a role, but its role has been greatly exaggerated. Even if the pumps that divert water from the Delta to the Central Valley and Southern California were run at full capacity, and drove certain species into extinction, the Valley’s problems would not be solved.”
They also criticized the effort to “dismantle” the biological opinion that Westlands Water District and the governor are supporting, saying that it would “only prolong and fuel the decades-long conflicts that have plagued water management in California.”
Doug Obegi, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he was encouraged that the governor didn’t call for the lifting of the federal Endangered Species Act or convening the “God Squad.” In response to a question, Schwarzenegger said the “God Squad” wasn’t a solution, since it takes a long time, freezes everything and creates an adversarial relationship.
Under the provisions of a 1978 amendment of the ESA, a committee comprised of seven Cabinet level members called the Endangered Species Committee (nicknamed “the God Squad”) can be convened to hear exemptions from the ESA’s provisions, according to a February press release from Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta. The governor is the only non-federal official who can request the committee be convened to relax the regulations.