Florez' bill stalls in committee

By C.J. Barbre

A Water Quality Environment News report listed the Tuolumne River as the eighth most endangered river in the U.S.

"The City of San Francisco has proposed a new pipeline that could increase the water it removes from the Tuolumne River by as much as 70%. Additional diversions would deplete 100 miles of productive, pristine river habitat and compound pollution problems in San Francisco Bay. Unless San Francisco invests in making its existing supplies go further, California could lose some of its best salmon and steelhead runs, world-class outdoor recreation, and the economic diversity this river now provides," the report states.

Also on the list is Santa Clara River, the second California river to make the top 10. According to the report, "Until recent years, the Santa Clara River has largely escaped the intense development transforming most of Southern California, but developers are now eyeing the river and adjacent lands for a massive expanse of new condominiums and shopping centers. Unless regulators hold new development to high standards, Southern California will lose its last significant natural river."

The San Joaquin River is not on the list, but if it is restored it could be devastating to communities on the east side of the Valley including Lindsay and Orange Cove not to mention Fresno which gets 40% or 60,000 acre feet of water from the Friant Dam. And the city is expected to grow by 40% over the next decade.

In 1988 the Natural resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation alleging, among other things, that since the 1940s, the Bureau has failed to allow sufficient water to pass over, around or through Friant Dam, destroying salmon spawning grounds and other fish habitat.

On Aug. 26, 2004, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton granted NRDC's motion for summary adjudication on their claim against the Bureau. The case is now in the early stages of the remedy phase. On April 13, Judge Karlton set Feb. 14, 2006 as the start date for the trial that will determine how much water will be released from Friant Dam. Karlton said he wanted the trial to be concluded by May 1, 2006.

State Senator Dean Florez (D-Shafter) proposed legislation to study not only the reestablishment of an anadromous (migrating from salt water to fresh to spawn) fishery, but the economic impacts associated with the restoration options, including funding sources for restoration and for mitigation of expenses.

"If the decision in the remedy phase goes against water districts, communities and businesses on the eastern part of the Central Valley will face dire consequences," Florez said. But opponents say that a number of examples of findings are "biased." They say, "The bill implies that diversions from Friant Dam constitute the only water supply for the southern San Joaquin Valley when in fact such diversions are just 13% of that region's diverse water supply portfolio."

Lindsay Mayor Ed Murray went to Sacramento to speak on behalf of the city's water needs. He was sorely disappointed with this newest defeat.

"The only people who care about maintaining the river for us is the east side of the San Joaquin Valley. L.A. doesn't care. They could care less that they get fruits and vegetables from the Valley. They don't understand how much produce is shipped through the Port of Long Beach which creates thousands of jobs there. They just don't see the relevance to it," Murray said in frustration.

He said the water district in the Delta wants the river restored for salmon because it brings in water to help flush out the Delta. Under "Inaccurate and Misleading Findings" opponents to the bill said the Delta, which is the source of drinking water for 22 million Californians, has chronic water quality impairments. This takes us back to the first paragraph. The Bay Area wants more water to come their way from the San Joaquin River and are claiming to champion anadromous fish while at the same time, they want to take 70% of water from the Tuolumne River and destroy some of the state's "best salmon and steelhead runs," and a world-class outdoor recreation area with great economic diversity.

"The problem is the only people who really care is us, sitting here, from Madera County down into Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties," Murray said. He explained that bills go into committee and then out onto the floor to be heard, but they have to make it out of the 11-member committee first, by six yes votes. But not all committee members were in attendance. He said the vote was tied five to five, but Senator Ramirez from Los Angeles was not in attendance. Murray said he left at 12:30 and got a call at 3 p.m. that Ramirez had voted No. The vote is left open until all of the legislators have the opportunity to cast their vote.

At the conclusion of the bill, it shows those is opposition as Bay Institute, NRDC, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association, Planning and Conservation League, Sierra Club and Trout Unlimited. And it shows those in support as "private citizen (1)."

"The bill would authorize a study because all of the research that has been done is strictly restoring the water regardless of the social or economic impact in the area," Murray said. He is most assuredly not the only private citizen wanting a much broader investigation of such impacts.

"The communities and economies of the Central and Southern San Joaquin Valley stand to suffer greatly if there is no evidence that cites a correlation, or benefit, to restore the San Joaquin River and sustain the Central Valley communities. A report that would reveal alternatives and solutions toward water storage and economic development is an important key to this region's future," Florez said. But it was too little too late. Such a study would inevitably require pushing back the remedy phase of the trial.

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