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Congressman a justifiable pain in the river plan for salmon

Devin Nunes, two-term Republican Congressman from Visalia, Calif., is becoming a real pain over the gun-to-the-head agreement to restore the San Joaquin River for salmon.

A 33-year-old former dairyman, Nunes is also likely saying what some farmers involved in the multi-million dollar agreement would like to, but cannot.

He is publicly challenging some very powerful and far more experienced politicians by questioning the river restoration pact between farmers and radical environmentalists. Multi-term Valley Republican Congressman George Radanovich of Mariposa and Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein, both long-time advocates for California agriculture, are leading a herd of California politicians in supporting a $250 million river restoration bill.

Nunes has become a loaner to the herd. He is not willing to lumber along with the crowd.

He has been rattling cages with rhetoric over the deal hastily tossed together late last year after a federal judge told the two sides to “Git'r done” or he would do it for them. Agriculture knew it was going to get the short end of the stick if the judge wrote the plan, so farmers made the best deal they could.

They still got the short end of the stick. It was only a bit longer stick than the judge would have cut.

Nunes, who has been challenging the deal with some brash rhetoric, now has some bullets for his gun in the form of a study undertaken several years ago that was to be part of the litigation, but never saw the light of day until someone gave it to him recently.

The study, done by a Vancouver, Wash., consulting firm that specializes in natural resource issues, says if the river flow is restored to what radical environmentalists want, it would reduce valley agricultural output by $159 million and put 3,000 people out of work.

Of course, the environmentalists disagree with the study.

In the scope of valley agriculture, the lost agricultural revenue is not that significant. Some 3,000 people losing their jobs is admittedly far more significant.

But let's be realistic about that — it should be relatively easy to create those jobs in other areas of a robust valley economy, in agriculture or in other industries.

The magnitude of the losses is not the issue. The study puts a price on what agriculture will pay to “restore” the river.

Nunes is being a pain, but sometimes pain is good.

Those far closer to the political scene tell me Nunes has evolved from a brash, know-it-all, who wanted to talk more than listen when he was first elected, to an astute politician who listens very closely to what his constituents have to say before he speaks.

He's still a bit brash — but a little impudence is not all that bad.

Folks want to throw a lot of money at fish. But Nunes says before the river is filled with water … and dollar bills … let's recognize the true costs.

Radanovich and Feinstein can't be faulted for wanting to end the 18-year legal war over the San Joaquin River and get on with more important water issues, like building Temperance Flat above the Friant Dam on the San Joaquin.

All Nunes is saying is that agriculture will pay a definite, hard cash/real jobs price for fish that may or may not be restored to a river. And that should be on the table.

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