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Water issues take precedence

Around this time last year this column often provided updates on the alfalfa hay market. We’ve been lax in reporting on the dismal hay market this year, but there’s a larger issue that is troubling and also reveals who stands up for agriculture and our food supply, and who favors Delta smelt over people.

As mentioned last month, Republican Congressman George Radanovich of Mariposa warned that we’ll be buying “gas and food from Hugo Chavez” in Venezuela if the current situation in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta continues. Radanovich is one of several congressmen in the San Joaquin Valley who are pushing for increased water deliveries.

Radanovich’s comment referring to restrictions on water operations came to mind when we recently read about California’s two U.S. senators stepping up to defend a Marin County oyster bed company that was battling the U.S. National Park Service. To their credit Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer stood up for a relatively small company fighting to stay in business. The circumstances involved are somewhat similar to the Delta fiasco where a biological opinion is being vigorously challenged.

But, where’s the effort from our U.S. senators when it comes to taking a stand in opposition to the harm that the Delta smelt debacle has created. It’s puzzling in view of the millions in lost revenues and unemployment rates as high as 40 percent in some San Joaquin Valley towns. It’s something that should have the entire California congressional delegation up in arms.

Lawsuits filed by the State Water Contractors (SWC) and other parties may end up having a resolution that is similar to the outcome for the oyster bed company. Its troubles began when a new owner started to discuss an extension of his lease. The National Park Service accused the operation of damaging the environment, an accusation the National Academy of Sciences studied and rejected. Last year the Department of the Interior’s inspector general issued a report accusing Park Service officials of exaggerating data.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “the findings mark the second time in a year that the Park Service has been put under a spotlight for essentially ‘fudging data’ in its attempts to show that the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. harmed the environment.” The Chronicle article also mentioned Sen. Feinstein’s reaction in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar: “I find it troubling and unacceptable that the National Park Service exaggerated the effects of the oyster population on the ... ecosystem,” she wrote.

The $64,000 question now is whether a flawed analysis will be uncovered by lawsuits challenging the biological opinion for Delta smelt, a 2 to 3-inch long fish protected by the Endangered Species Act. On May 29, U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger granted a preliminary injunction against the Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion for Delta smelt. Meanwhile, lawsuits are challenging restrictions placed on water operations due to the biological opinion, which targeted pumping operations. Federal agencies are accused of ignoring scientific data and a long list of factors responsible for dwindling smelt populations.

When the dust finally clears don’t be surprised if there’s another case of a federal agency exaggerating the data.

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