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Federal water law is all wet; California proves it

By Rob Vandenheuvel
Milk Producers Council

FRESNO, Calif. -- As we approach the end of January with very little measurable rain to speak of in California, there is more and more talk about a California drought and the impact it is having on the residents and farmers of California’s Central Valley. If you haven’t already seen it in your paper or on your evening news, it will undoubtedly be there soon.

The general population outside of our State probably knows very little about the Central Valley of California, butthey undoubtedly recognize the “Made in California” labels that are on many of the products they eat. Given the readership of this newsletter, you already know that California’s dairy farms produce about 20 percent of the nation’s milk. But did you also know that according to CDFA, nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables come from California as well? Obviously, the availability of water in the Central Valley has a huge impact on U.S. availability of food (not to mention the global consumers of our products as well).

While much of the media attention has been on the lack of rain – which is certainly a valid observation – we as a local agricultural industry know that this drought was largely set in motion by human actions. No, I’m not talking about some theory that your pickup truck is causing “global warming.” I’m talking about the fact that our Federal policies have resulted in a higher priority being set on the well-being of a 3-inch fish over the well-being of millions of California residents.

A short 12 months ago, California authorities released 700,000 acre-feet of useable fresh water out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, and into the Pacific Ocean. Haven’t seen that in the media stories on this issue? Not surprising. If that fact seems preposterous and unbelievable, check it out on California’s Natural Resources Agency’s website: http://goo.gl/3j7vUy. Was it because of a lack of storage capabilities? Absolutely not! It was because of a fear that if the water were pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta into available storage facilities, it might have killed some of the “Delta Smelt,” a 3-inch fish that happens to be on the U.S. “endangered species list.”

Exactly how much water is 700,000 acre-feet? More than 260,000,000,000 gallons. And by the Natural Resources Agency’s own admission, it’s “enough to irrigate more than 200,000 acres of farmland or supply 1.4 million households for a year.”

How much better off would we be if we had that 700,000 acre-feet today in storage?

In the coming days/weeks/months, there will be lots of talk about how we can prevent this in the future, and we greatly appreciate the leadership of our Central Valley legislators in trying to bring national awareness to this issue. We look forward to working with them on both short and long-term solutions. But in the meantime, we are left living with the real-life, painful consequences of a ridiculous Federal policy that literally chooses the welfare of a 3-inch fish over that of the human beings that live here.

Reprinted with permission; original appeared in the January 24th Milk Producers Council Newsletter. Rob Vandenheuvel is the general manager of MPC.