The House Natural Resources Committee held a field hearing in the epicenter of the drought stricken San Joaquin Valley yesterday to hear testimony from farmers affected by California’s water crisis. The hearing was preceded by a rally attended by hundreds on the steps of the Fresno City Hall.
The panel convened in Fresno at the behest of Rep. David Valadao who requested that a hearing be held on the water reform legislation he previously introduced. According The Fresno Bee, even though “Valadao’s bill does not address the Endangered Species Act, farmers, could not pass up the opportunity to discuss their frustration with it.”
Nine witnesses, including several farmers from the Valley, came forth to provide emotional and compelling testimony about how their farms are not only being decimated by the drought, but how government regulations, laws and a lack of common sense are causing hundreds of thousands of productive agriculture acres to be fallowed, idled or destroyed.
Kole Upton, a Merced County farmer and WG member, suggested a revision to federal law that would, in essence, require accountability for all uses of water. Upton noted that water reallocated from farmers as part of the San Joaquin River Restoration Act has failed to produce the intended result of restoring a cold water salmon fishery on the river. Other farmers and water experts have made the same observation about the millions of acre feet that have been redirected through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and out to sea, for the purpose of restoring the Delta smelt population, which has not improved.
Specifically, Upton suggested "a proposed law requiring environmental water releases be held to the same standards for efficiency and accountability as required of urban and agricultural uses. Water is a public resource and should not be wasted by any user. So, if an environmental water release is not accomplishing the task for which it is being released, then it should be made available to the other water users so it may be beneficially used for society."
Although the House has passed Valadao’s bill, the Senate has not yet acted on it. Several members on the congressional panel pointed out the need for the Senate to act as soon as possible.
WG continues to urge the U.S. Senate to pass water legislation introduced by Senators Feinstein and Boxer so that a House-Senate conference committee can negotiate a bipartisan solution.