Big Water’s Big Lie Unravels

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Central Valley agribusiness interests have since January issued a constant stream of press releases and staged frequent photo opportunities claiming that “drought,” compounded by pumping restrictions to protect Delta smelt and other fish species, will “devastate” San Joaquin Valley growers and farmworkers this year.

“This march is about opening our eyes to the reality of California’s water crisis – and the reality is that farmers do not have a reliable water supply they can count on, farm workers fear losing their jobs because crops are not being planted, and in towns across the Central Valley, unemployment is skyrocketing,” claimed Governor Schwarzenegger when he addressed the “March for Water” at San Luis Reservoir, organized by San Joaquin Valley agribusiness in April. “I am determined to getting a comprehensive solution done once and for all that will update our water infrastructure, increase our water storage and restore our Delta.”

Schwarzenegger, Westlands Water District and other San Joaquin Valley water contractors are cynically using the false claims of “drought” and the “devastating” impact of Delta pumping restrictions to campaign for a peripheral canal and more dams, an enormously expensive project that would only worsen the collapse of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt and other fish populations.

Many reporters in the corporate media have repeated these big lies, based on false and misleading hydrological and economic data, with little or no contrary data to combat their purveyors. However, Spreck Rosekrans, an Economic Analyst at Environmental Defense, has effectively exposed this disinformation in a short article posted on his blog on June 8,

The “doom and gloom” and “fish versus jobs” scenario that has deluged the media over the past several months constrasts dramatically with the actual hydrological and economic data. In fact, “information compiled by the California Department of Water Resources reveals that in 2009 water supply in most parts of the valley will be in excess of 80% of average,” according to Rosecrans.

California aqueduct.

“Central Valley Project deliveries to Westlands Water District, for example, were forecast to be zero as recently as March,” said Rosecrans. “Westlands now projects they expect to use 86% of average annual supplies this year. Their total supply is a combination of deliveries from the Delta, water banked last year, groundwater pumping and purchases.”

The data, compiled last month by the Department of Water Resources and based on a series of interviews with staff from each of the districts, was attached to a letter from DWR Director Lester Snow to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein on May 15.

“The information paints a very different picture for agriculture this year than we have seen reported this spring,” emphasized Rosecrans. “The water shortages are much lower than previously reported. This year’s supplies do, of course, rely on levels of groundwater pumping that would not be possible every year. Still, one can only conclude that the water supply situation is not as dire as previously reported and that San Joaquin Valley farms will still be able to grow food for our kitchen tables this year.”

Most recently, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, reacting to the release of the federal government’s biological opinion that requires more protections for Sacramento River winter run and spring run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, green sturgeon and the southern resident population of killer whales (orcas), falsely portrayed the peer-reviewed plan as favoring “fish over people.” Schwarzenegger completely ignored the thousands and thousands of commercial and recreational fishing businesses and coastal communities that have been devastated by fishery collapses caused by massive increases in water exports in recent years and the operation of Central Valley dams.

“This federal biological opinion puts fish above the needs of millions of Californians and the health and security of the world’s eighth largest economy,” claimed Schwarzenegger. “The piling on of one federal court decision after another in a species-by-species approach is killing our economy and undermining the integrity of the Endangered Species Act.”

Fortunately, the claim by corporate agribusiness and the Governor’s office that the “drought” and “pumping” restrictions are “devastating” California agribusiness is now being exposed for the “Big Lie” that it is.

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DAN BACHER can be reached at:

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher