United defense key to Delta's future
By Rep. Jerry McNerney
With more predictions of drought-like conditions for California in the near future, it is difficult to find workable solutions when some politicians mislead the public at a critical time for our state’s water supply.
It was especially alarming to hear that Donald Trump recently stood before a Central Valley audience to declare “there is no drought.” Such a display of ignorance by a presidential candidate is not only deeply disturbing, but it further inflames California water politics and undercuts efforts to find common ground to address this crisis.
Yet, it is difficult to write off Trump’s comments as just a candidate pandering on the stump when Republicans representing Central Valley communities agree that Trump is “100 percent right.”
These same Republicans have stopped at nothing to include their extreme drought bill, H.R. 2898, by Rep. Valadao, in other pieces of legislation. They attached the Valadao bill to the Energy and Water Appropriations bill this year, which I tried to strip out.
Fortunately, this legislation failed to pass the House. These members attached similar provisions to the House Energy bill, which is inappropriate and counterproductive. These desperate attempts reflect a backward policy of refusing to invest in sustainable water supplies unless they are able to drain the last of the Delta’s fresh water.
I am fortunate to represent the Delta, a unique and vital estuary and the heart of the state’s water system. This is why I am also concerned that the Delta delegation appears to be fractured. We have to be unified in fighting water policies that would damage the health of the Delta and the families, farmers, and economies it supports. The insertion of “operations” language designed to force an increase in Delta pumping, in any bill, including H.R. 5247, by my colleague Rep. John Garamendi, threatens to damage the Delta, harm commercial and recreational fishing, and hurt our region.
A thriving Delta benefits the entire West. That is why representatives from California, Oregon, and Washington have opposed recent drought bills that are bad for the Delta and the Pacific Coast salmon fishing industry. We cannot support legislation that disregards peer-reviewed science and threatens salmon, among other fish species. After three decades of over-pumping the Delta, every fishery in the region faces serious decline. As less water flows through the estuary, salinity moves further east into the Delta, harming wildlife, farming, and drinking water supplies for everyone in the state.
Many scientific organizations that have studied the issue agree that we must reduce dependence on the Delta and promote regional self-sufficiency. The estuary needs more water flowing through it to survive, not less. Prevailing science shows that to maintain a healthy river system, no more than 20 percent of its flows, on average, should be diverted.
According to the Bay Institute, earlier this year approximately two-thirds of storm runoff was captured or diverted, with only one-third of the runoff making it through the Delta estuary. And, for the period of Oct. 1 of last year to Jan. 31, 60 percent of storm runoff was diverted or stored. So, no, water is not being wasted. Water scarcity in California is caused by a longstanding and severe drought and the slow pace of investments in efficiency, water recycling and other supplies.
We cannot afford to waiver in our commitment to the Delta. Gambling with the health of the Delta region will jeopardize the economies and environment of California and other Western states. Now, more than ever, we must unite around smart action and investments that will strengthen our drought resiliency and create a sustainable water future
— Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, represents California District 9 in the House of Representatives.