Calif. Congressman Gives State One More Drought Year Before Water Supplies Run Out

Kerry Picket Political Reporter
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WASHINGTON — If California slogs through one more drought riddled year like the two previous ones, large population centers like San Diego and Los Angeles will be facing “catastrophic” consequences, says one California congressman from the San Joaquin Valley.

“It is catastrophic in the San Joaquin Valley, but it will also become catastrophic for large population centers, but right now they are down to where they can water their grass twice a week and they had to cut their use to 25 percent,” California Rep. Devin Nunes told The Daily Caller. “That still allows your grass to be green and all of that. One more year [like the previous two] and nobody will have anything.”

Nunes told TheDC that it is unnoticeable to residents in California large southern cities because they get their water supply from not only the California Delta but also two other sources — Owens Valley and the Colorado River. Other parts of the state like the San Joaquin Valley and other rural areas are reliant on ground water.

“So there’s ground water. You dig deep wells and you pump it out of the ground. That’s what’s allowing us to survive,” Nunes warned. “But it’s going to keep getting worse, and we’re basically at a red line.”

“One more drought year and we’re in big trouble. You’re going to have entire cities running out of water,” he said noting that the reservoirs cities rely on would be tapped dry.

California Democrats like Gov. Jerry Brown. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer blame climate change for the drought troubles their state is facing. Brown says the lack of water in his state proves that climate change “is not a hoax,” and Boxer’s answer to the receding supply of California’s reservoirs is to reduce carbon pollution and “provide critical financing for water infrastructure projects identified by local communities, such as desalination, water recycling, and repair of aging water supply infrastructure.”

However, Nunes and others in his party say that abuse of the 42-year-old Endangered Species Act (ESA) is drying up his district, his state and killing the West Coast’s agricultural industry.

“The [water supply] system was built to withstand five years worth of drought. So three winters ago we had the wettest winter in like 30 years and we essentially let all of that water go,” Nunes explained, who has proposed legislation himself to deal with the water emergency in his state.

“So what’s happening is because of the Endangered Species Act, you have the big pumping stations that move the water throughout the state have been barely running since 2008,” he said.

“So the problem is that we’ve had all this water that historically we used to get that we haven’t been getting. That’s why the whole state is out of water. It’s not because of the drought. It’s not unusual to have a drought. That’s why they build the system to withstand five years of drought.”

So where does ESA come in? According to Nunes, environmentalists brought a series of lawsuits forward to protect a fish known as the Smelt.

“Smelt typically is endangered, and the environmental groups say it’s endangered because there’s not enough fresh water going into the Delta, and the courts have agreed. Until we act federally and say that’s out of bounds of the Endangered Species Act.”

He continued, “This is going to continue, because it’s not based on science,” Nunes said. “It’s just based on the Endangered Species Act, which is unfortunate because the Delta Smelt is a brackish water fish. The amount of freshwater is pretty much irrelevant to the Delta Smelts’ survival.”

Nunes points out that since 1992 environmental regulations for the Delta Smelt have resulted in water diversions; however, the fish intended to protect dropped began to drop in population anyway.

Sen. Boxer disputes Nunes, telling The Daily Caller that the ESA is not the cause of California’s water problems.

“It has nothing to do with the drought out in California — zero, nothing. It has nothing to do with it,” she said. “We have fisherman who need to earn a living. It’s about the fishing industry and I want to save the salmon industry, and I want to save the farming industry. You can’t put those two industries against each other. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Nunes does not buy Boxer’s argument.

“That’s just phony, because if they’re fishing for Delta Smelt that doesn’t make any sense—because that would be illegal and they talked about that in the past — salmon fishermen,” he said.

He added further, “Number one, the salmon industry is very small in California, but number two, the salmon population fluctuated wildly. We had a huge salmon population just a couple of years ago, and I actually think now the salmon populations are in pretty good shape.”

The California Latino Water Coalition, an organization of Hispanic farmers within the state, is led by Mario Santoyo who says it is not an issue of “fish versus people or people versus fish.”

“There’s going to be a direct nexus between water agriculture and jobs. So that seems to be the trend for the next several years and so that trend is not just been focused on natural drought but the regulatory conditions. Again, it comes back to environmental laws and regulations would have made a difference,” he told TheDC.

“You can’t be affecting the nation’s top AG producing area in such a harsh way and expect for it not to have a ripple effect back to the nation. It doesn’t work that way. It’s all connected,” Santoyo explained.

“If we have a third-year like these past two years I don’t see how agriculture continues. I think they’ll be some very large AG corporations that have enough capital that one way or another they’re able to maneuver resources, but the majority of farmers, I think, they’re cooked. They’re done. Corporations will swallow these guys up.”

Santoyo is not optimistic about the coming year and the hottest point of the present year just started.

“The situation is such, particularly as it relates to federal water, there is zero surface water last year. There’s zero surface water this year. Which means there’s tens of thousands of wells pulling water from underground. That’s the only place where there’s water.”

“There’s not going to be a lot of water the third year. When you don’t have surface water and you don’t have groundwater what do you have? That’s really the end situation,” he said.

Republicans on Capitol Hill in the Senate and House are putting forth pieces of legislation to rein in the ESA after more than 40 years of regulations through the Environmental Protection Agency. Some of those years included a period when Republicans held the House, Senate, and White House.

Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee explained to The Daily Caller why he thinks the GOP never acted when it had the chance to consider the scope and the amount of power the ESA has on Americans.

“We screwed up seriously. We missed a whole lot of opportunity when we should have done things and a lot of it was people were fearful because it sounds so nice to be in favor of clean water,” Bishop said.

“And if anyone tries to change [the] Endangered Species Act or Clean Air Act, they’re always victimized and brutalized, I think, unfairly. What had to happen was you had to see what a government that becomes power hungry and overreaches could do with these acts. I think that’s what you’ve seen in the last eight years.”

Bishop added, “That overreach, I think, is changing the way people look at things. It’s a paradigm shift we have to have if we’re going to move forward. Unfortunately, in the Bush years people thought, ‘Oh, it will never be that bad.’ It is that bad.”