Endangered Species Act ruling threatens food production in California
Judging from the varied reactions of viewers watching the recent 60 Minutes TV segment, "California: Running Dry," the state's three-year-drought is more complicated than simply the weather, according to the president of a national coalition of farm and ranch women.
"If you look at comments on the CBS website, you can see how emotional people are," said Chris Wilson, president of American Agri-Women. "But if people studied the facts of this case, they would see the devastating effects of the Endangered Species Act on not only rural people but Americans everywhere, not just California, because these farmers feed the world."
In a 2006 lawsuit environmental groups demanded that the pumps in the Delta be shut off to protect a small minnow-smelt. Protectors of the smelt claim it can be sucked into the pumps that distribute water to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. In August 2007, U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger ordered curtailing of the pumping of water that supplies the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta until a new biological opinion could be written, which it was in December 2008, resulting in more pumping restrictions. San Joaquin Valley water agencies challenged the ruling. As a result, in May 2009, Judge Wanger agreed the original restrictions on pumping needed to be revisited with the water agencies' compelling argument that people are being harmed by unreasonable concern over the welfare of a tiny fish.
According to one Californian, the drought was just as severe last year and farmers cut back on planting, but received from 10 to 30 percent of their water allocation through the Delta, depending on where their land was located. This year, because of the Delta smelt ruling, the allocation is zero percent. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been fallowed, almond trees pulled, and more than 60,000 jobs were lost. The Obama administration has addressed the California water crisis by releasing a coordinated interim action plan of six federal agencies with their list of actions to be coordinated with the state. But some say it is too little, too late.
Carol Chandler, past president of California Women for Agriculture, stated, "There is a lot of rhetoric about conservation and restoration without addressing the need for water storage and temporary suspension of the Endangered Species Act. To improve our situation, growers in California need more water storage, conveyance capabilities around the fragile Delta so water can travel south, repair of the Delta levees to prevent salt water intrusion and flooding (salt water intrusion comes into the Delta during drought when the water seeps in from the Pacific Ocean), and suspension of the Endangered Species Act during severe drought conditions."
Chandler added that many people would like to see a review of the biological opinions declaring that the pumps were the reason the smelt were dying.
AAW president Wilson stated, "A fish has been put above the needs of human beings who rely on the fresh products that come out of one of the most bountiful breadbaskets of America. We depend on California production of over 300 crops. Just one example is that 90 percent of almonds come from California. Without an adequate water supply, we risk shortages of our food supply here at home. United States farmers produce the most plentiful and safest food supply in the world so why risk growing it elsewhere? We all believe in conservation of the species but families must come first."
American Agri-Women is the nation's largest coalition of farm, ranch and agribusiness women, with 50 state, commodity, agribusiness affiliate organizations and collegiate chapters throughout the country. AAW is a volunteer organization, working to provide true information about agriculture to the public since 1974.