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Wait before baiting fishing line for San Joaquin River salmon

Don't get out the fishing pole just yet to go salmon fishing on the San Joaquin River. You might need an ice saw before the salmon start spawning in the river.

From the newspaper headlines, it was time to strike up the band and have a parade as a settlement was announced recently between “environmentalists” and farmers to restore salmon to the river 60 years after Friant Dam near Fresno, Calif., was built.

However, read the fine print. There are more hurdles to clear before the scheduled 2012 re-introduction of salmon into the river than a high hurdler must sail over to get to the Olympics.

The widely heralded settlement came about only because a judge in Sacramento told the parties involved in the 18-year-old legal morass he could only resolve the issue with a meat cleaver.

Madera County, Calif., farmer Kole Upton, chairman of the Friant Water Users Authority was quoted in the Fresno Bee as saying “we had a pretty good idea the meat cleaver was going to be used on us.”

So the deal was done with more details than the devil can handle. Water districts, like Westlands Water District, and others downstream from the San Joaquin are at best fearful of the deal, uncertain of the settlement's impact on their ability to delivery water.

Cities along the river are worried they will be flooded out for fish.

And there is the small matter of money, as much as $800 million to restore the fish to the river, most of which is not even to the front door of the bank.

The settlement says the feds will ante up $250 million. Congress has not agreed to that. An estimated $100 million is supposed to come from Proposition 84, which will not even be voted upon by Californians until next month.

According to glowing reports of a river settlement, if the proposition fails, the state would simply write a check for $100 million from the state's bank account.

The governor and the legislature may have something to say about that.

The only guaranteed money is the $330 million growers have agreed to pay as part of a $7 per acre foot “environmental fee” they have been paying for years.

Speaking of environmental, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and farmers' best friend, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), is not kicking in a dime. As the state's newspapers like to point out, NRDC is a “non-profit” environmental watchdog group. It is a pretty hungry pooch.

According to the latest available financials, NRDC gobbled up $57 million in 2004 in donations to support its causes. It listed assets at $93 million.

Maybe all those socially conscious, fish-loving lawyers could kick in $7 per hour from their legal bills to help the salmon. However, you and I know who will pay for the salmon that may or may not be swimming in the San Joaquin River in six years.

One thing for certain in the settlement is if salmon are ever caught from the San Joaquin River, they will be the most expensive barbecue fare in history. Think I will stick with Santa Maria Tri-Tip. Okie steers are not yet endangered species.

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