Biological Opinion on Fish Could Mean Less Water for Farmers

June 5, 2009 12:27:54 AM PDT
Salmon and giant Killer Whales have joined the tiny Delta Smelt as part of the reason Central Valley farmers may get less water for their crops.A Biological Opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service says Salmon, Steelhead and Sturgeon in the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta are in danger and need more water. It also says Killer Whales in the ocean are impacted by the lack of Salmon to feed on. But the opinion, which has the force of law has local growers calling for action.

Mario Santoyo of the Friant Water District told growers at a meeting on Thursday, "It's important to do noise. Noise. Because unless you're heard, nobody cares."

The growers are worried because the decision to provide water to save could cut more than three hundred thousand acre feet of water out of Valley irrigation supplies. The government says that's only about five per cent of the federal supply to the Valley. But farmers say it comes on top of other reductions for the Delta Smelt, and for restoration of the San Joaquin River. The Valley Congressional Delegation is vowing to fight.

In Washington D.C. Republican Congressman Devin Nunes said, "Today, the Obama administration announced a new biological opinion that will end water deliveries in California."

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement saying, "This federal biological opinion puts fish above the needs of millions of Californians."

But fishermen, like Larry Collins who is president of the San Francisco based Crab Boaters Association, and is also a Salmon fisherman says efforts to save the fish are long overdue.

"We lose these Salmon, they're gone. Like they did on the San Joaquin when they build the Friant Dam. There's a whole run of fish wiped out. Used to be 2 million fish in the San Joaquin, wiped out."

The shortage of Salmon has stopped commercial fishing off the coasts of California and Oregon for the past two years.

Growers say they're not entirely to blame, and the Westland's Water District, which is most affected by the opinion, is going to court to challenge the opinion. Valley growers are also planning to lobby their congressional delegation, and are hoping to have a big rally in downtown Fresno on July 1st.

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