Schwarzenegger Faces Water Protests

June 18, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
While Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger addressed a crowd inside Fresno's Tower Theatre on Tuesday, protestors outside chanted:"Turn on the pumps. Turn on the pumps."They mean the massive pumps which move water from the Delta to the Central Valley. Pumping has been reduced to protect fish species, including the tiny Delta Smelt. As a result, some Valley growers have received less water from state and federal sources.

While the Governor came to talk about the state's budget crisis questions from the crowd focused on the water situation. One man accused the governor of not doing enough. Putting Schwarzenegger on the defensive.

He told the crowd, "I've been fighting for water for four years straight."

But the notion that fish are to blame for the farmers problems is in dispute.

"I think it's all smoke and mirrors. The public is being mislead." Raisin grower Walt Shubin said. He was among a small group who met at the Fresno County Library Thursday night for a forum on the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta.

Brandon Hill, of the local Audubon Society is among those who don't believe that keeping a small amount of water flowing to the Delta, to help the Smelt is a waste. He said, "We have to view the little fish as being symbolic of an entire ecosystem. Because the Smelt is an indicator species. When the Smelt goes down, that means the whole Delta is basically a sewer."

In addition to farms, the Delta provides drinking water to 25 million Californians. The drought, and environmental concerns have kept some State and Federal water supplies from crops. But figures from the State Department of Water Resources show that by pumping wells and buying water, growers in the Central Valley have been able to secure most of the water they need.

This year the Westland's Water District has 86 per cent of its normal water supply.

The Friant Water users authority has 74 per cent.

The San Joaquin River exchange contractors have 100 per cent.

But, Westland's attorney Sarah Woolf says the numbers are misleading. She notes the district has had to rely on underground pumping to get water, which is expensive, and has idled more land to save water. According to state figures Westland's has idled 220 thousand acres, or 40 per cent of its farmland. In a typical year the district idles about 78 thousand acres.

The State's Director of Water Resources, Lester Snow blames the drought for most of the shortage. In a letter sent to Senator Diane Feinstein Snow said, "I believe many have lost sight of the plain fact that we are in a hydrologic drought and as such water supplies are simply limited for all users. This cycle of water boom and bust in California is not new, but it has intensified as court decisions and regulatory protections govern the operation of the state and federal pumps."

But Snow also says a long term fix is needed for the Delta. At the meeting in Fresno the Governor promised to make getting more water to valley farms, a priority, saying, "We're going to continue working, we're going to get the water done this year."

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