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Little fish, big problem

By E. Ralph Hostetter
web posted October 5, 2009

Delta SmeltAn environmental battle is under way today in California between the farmers of the San Joaquin Valley and Delta areas and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The issue at hand is the possibility of a future major drought in the area and the effect such a drought would have on the survival of an endangered species known as the Delta Smelt, a three and one-half inch minnow.

Pacific Legal Foundation's "Save Our Water, Save Our Jobs" petition campaign has been joined by California key civic, business and agricultural leaders.  The petition campaign has gathered 12,000 signatures to date, urging President Barack Obama and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to convene a special panel called the "God Squad" to address California's water emergency caused by harsh federal environmental restrictions.  The "God Squad" is a panel of seven cabinet officials acting as a committee to intercede in economic emergencies.

California Governor Schwarzenegger refuses to invoke the "God Squad" provision, giving the reason that in the five times it has been attempted, it failed in four.  Appeals to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) brought the same result — a refusal. 

The San Joaquin farmers find themselves in a political stalemate.    Environmentalists represented by the Fish and Wildlife Commission are holding fast for the most part, though in the past month substantial relief was granted when some 600,000 acre-feet of water were released to the most needy farmers in the region.

The San Joaquin River is not a strong river.  It has been known to go dry at times, partly as a result of a dam built on the river in 1949. 

San Joaquin farmers might be well advised to take a page from the Klamath River Basin Farmers to the north.  Farmers along the southern Oregon-northern California border in the Klamath River Valley faced a similar problem when irrigation to the farms in the region was shut down eight years ago in 2001 on orders from Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton.

Environmentalists had petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to deny irrigation water to the farmers in the Klamath River Basin in order to protect an endangered species of fish known as the Lost River or Short Nose (snubnose) sucker.

The Klamath River, approximately 263 miles long, is a major river along the southern Oregon and California border considered prime habitat for Chinook salmon, Coho salmon and Steelhead trout, none of which is an endangered species.

When the use of water in the Upper Klamath Basin for irrigated agriculture was temporarily cut off in 2001, hundreds of thousands of acres in the Klamath Valley went without irrigation that summer.  A wave of civil disobedience swept the valley as hundreds of local farmers using saws and blow torches seized the head gates of the Klamath Lake to feed water into irrigation canals on three occasions in June and July.  Bureau of Reclamation officials closed them again, then turned to federal marshals and the FBI to help them keep the gates closed after the local sheriff refused to intervene.  As tensions grew in Klamath Valley, Secretary Gale Norton finally ordered the gates to open permanently in 2002.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 expired in 1990 but funding has been continued by Congressional environmentalist bureaucrats far beyond what the sponsors of the original act ever intended.  The original intent of the law was to protect the American bald eagle, the grizzly bear and bison, true icons in the natural animal world in America.  It was never intended to include insects, rodents and reptiles that have appeared on the list of endangered species by the hundreds.

The reach of the Endangered Species Act today has been extended into areas of private property rights that are proving disastrous in their application to local citizens.

For example, the Atlanta, Georgia, region in 2007 was suffering a similar problem — one of the worst droughts in its history.  Over 3 million people in the Atlanta area depend on the 38,000-acre Lake Lanier for their water.  Lake Lanier was then estimated to have less than a 90-day supply of water, controlled by the U.S. Corps of Engineers at a normal water flow of some 5,000 cubic feet per second (CFS).  Atlanta pleaded with the Corps of Engineers to reduce the flow somewhat to protect its water supply.  After passing numerous communities and two power plants, all of which require necessary amounts of water, the flow reaches the "three biggest road blocks to dropping the rate of flow."  Apparently taking precedence over all else, the biggest roadblocks — not the humans in Atlanta — are the "Fat three-ridge mussel, purple bank climber mussel and the Gulf sturgeon, a fish."  All three are “endangered species and carry a federal mandate that the water release rate be maintained, otherwise the mussels will die."

There is something inherently wrong about placing the rights of rodents, aquatic life and insects above the Constitutionally guaranteed right to life and property of citizens of the United States. ESR

E. Ralph Hostetter, a prominent businessman and publisher, also is an award-winning columnist and Vice Chairman of the Free Congress Foundation Board of Directors. He welcomes e-mail comments at eralphhostetter@yahoo.com.





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