Congressman Jim Costa is at it again, doing everything he can to drain the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and send the water south to the megafarms of his agribusiness cronies in the western San Joaquin Valley.

This time Costa has introduced legislation to exempt the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project from the pumping restrictions stipulated by the U.S. Endangered Species Act to protect Chinook salmon and the Delta smelt.

Under Costa's bill, pumping at the two huge government plants in the south Delta could not be restricted between April 1 and May 31 -- precisely the times when young salmon and other fish are "entrained" into the pumps and ground to pulp.

Costa vows the exemption is "about giving relief and economic security to all Californians." We're used to his irrational hostility to any kind of equitable distribution of our precious natural resources, but we're still surprised he can make such a spurious claim with a straight face.

The main beneficiaries of such an exemption would be the few hundred corporate farms on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley -- farms that already account for the lion's share of the Delta's water.

It certainly won't benefit the thousands of family farmers in the Delta, who are already menaced by the rapacious water grab of the San Joaquin water barons. Nor will it be anything but disastrous for our imperiled salmon fisheries.\


Advertisement

Both our Delta farmers and our salmon fishermen contribute significantly to our food supplies and regional economies. But Costa seems blithely unconcerned about their welfare.

Finally, the exemption will have dire consequences for East Bay and South Bay residents, who receive much of their water from the Delta, and who use the Delta for a wide range of recreational activities.

The water quality in the Delta declines in proportion to the amount of water we send south. That affects all the residents of the greater Bay Area, of course, and it also affects San Francisco Bay itself.

The Bay/Delta system comprises the largest estuary on the West Coast. It is a vast aquatic nursery that sustains not just our salmon, but our Dungeness crab, white sturgeon, and herring fisheries as well. By allowing unrestricting pumping, we would assure the death of the Delta's already beleaguered ecosystems.

Costa is right about one thing: California is in a water crisis. But this is nothing new. And it must be remembered that this crisis was largely precipitated by oversubscription of our scant water resources.

So how do we deal with the crisis? First, call out politicians who throw around red herrings. We need to make sure people understand the real stakes behind these cynical attempts to gut the Endangered Species Act. It is by no means perfect legislation, but it has done yeoman's service for the people, our resource-based economies and the environment.

Then we must revise the distribution of our water, allocating it where the need is greatest and where it will do the most good. We have enough water to support the needs of urbanites, agriculture and the environment, but we must have policies that are rooted in the 21st Century.

We can implement a variety of strategies to reduce Delta exports while simultaneously assuring water security, and we can do it without hocking the future of our children and grandchildren. These include land retirement, water conservation and recycling, storm water capture, accelerated adoption of agricultural drip and micro-sprinkler irrigation systems, and xeriscaping (landscaping using drought-resistant plants).

Finally, please contact Congressman Costa and tell him to quit posturing. It's time he served the people, not the puppet masters.

Carolee Krieger is the executive director and co-founder of the California Water Impact Network.