Imagine a city devastated by a natural disaster where unemployment and poverty reach such levels as to witness lines over a mile long to get meals from community soup kitchens. No imagination needed as it’s happening right now in the US and not just in one city but throughout a large region of one of our most resourced states; California. Years of drought in the Central Valley of the Golden State has produced just such a scenario. Known for its agricultural base it presents an incredible irony in that the silent people standing in these food lines are the same ones that in the recent past grew and harvested over 12% of the nations food and represented our country’s most prolific milk producers. But that was before the government and parochial environmentalists shut their irrigation water off. This is a story of good people versus do-gooders.
We’ve all joked about the Golden State for years; Left Coast, LaLa Land, the state of fruits and nuts, etc. Those colloquialisms just aren’t funny anymore. In fact, the rest of the country now looks at California, shakes their head and mutters, “what a shame, it had so much potential, ” …. as if looking at an old friend on their death bed. State politicians charged with stewarding its budget have failed miserably and shackled it with tens of billions of dollars in debt, a tapped out credit card and an empty wallet. Tax policy is forcing business to relocate elsewhere and the evil top 5% of income earners are following suit. They have maimed the goose that laid the golden egg.
Agenda laden environmentalists have had a strangle hold on the oil rich offshore drilling fields and now they choke the agriculturally fertile Central Valley; both of which could solve a lot of the state’s fiscal problems. And the super hero governor attended too many cocktail parties in Sacramento with those that have slowly and systematically dismantled this wonderful state. Unfortunately the hardest hit demographic in this real life tragedy is the one that got him his job in the first place.
California needs an intervention. To be brutally honest, a peoples’ revolution would be better. The Ag-business community of the Central Valley that has been hammered by state agencies, federal regulators and judges, and green activists are likely candidates to initiate the effort. The assault on these people has been so complete that families who have devoted generations to farming are in one of two groups; those that have cashed in their chips or those on the verge. Farmers are 24/7 environmentalists that are motivated by capitalism, not altruism. They are totally vested in this relationship through the nurture and health of their own land. They are enterprising ‘givers’ in a population of statist ‘takers’ and they face a fight with the deep pockets of the extremists in the environmentalist movement that aren’t vested in anything they decide to target.
The saga pits unlikely opponents; Darwin’s evolutionary theory against the economics of Adam Smith where they both collide with Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. The cast of characters includes federal and state agencies, the economy, unemployment, natural resources, regulation, environmentalists, and a 3” fish of no apparent value The smelt looks like a sardine, isn’t edible, has a life span shorter than a NASCAR calendar, and comes from a family tree of smelt cousins a mile long. Simply put, the Delta Smelt is a fish that only a marine biologist could love.
Useless you say; heavens no! In fact, this fish is legend and has occupied a spot on the vaunted Endangered Species List as ‘threatened’ since 1993 when it was discovered that their numbers were dwindling. All hail the Delta Smelt as virtually limitless federal protection has been granted to this fragment of God’s sense of humor. Aren’t we good people for our stewardship of this guppy! San Francisco Bay Keeper, a group of earth savers lists two reasons why the smelt is so important, a.) because its on the Endangered Species List and b.) because its an indicator of eco-health. Is this the best they can come up with for the reason to devastate the Central Valley? Reason (a) isn’t a reason and b. is disingenuous and just plain lame.
But, there is another side to this heartwarming story of environmental activism and with it comes those pesky and inconvenient unintended consequences that grow out of such do-goodism.
Lets set the stage for our story. The Sacramento – San Joaquin River Delta, seasonal home of the Delta Smelt, is the main water thoroughfare for 25 million Californians providing drinking water to 2/3 of the states’ population. Two large pumping station at Baker and Tracy divert water out of the delta for irrigation and drinking water. Years of drought in California have increased the overall logistics problems associated with water quantity and allocation for the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. The delta also supplies the San Joaquin, King, and Kern Rivers with irrigation water for the arid Central Valley, a world renown fertile region long considered a national treasure. The agriculture industry annually accounts for $36 billion in revenue and an additional $100 billion in related economic activity for the state. The predominately agricultural San Joaquin Valley (southern portion of the Great Central Valley) is home to 4+ million people where unemployment has reached 40+% in some areas during recent years. It represents 23 of the 29 poorest counties in the state with per capita incomes in those areas less than $7600 annually. (1)
Against this backdrop of the Central Valley’s agricultural community and their explicit need for the water resources the delta provides lies the environmentalists, lawyers and lobbyists with dog-eared pocket size copies of the 1973 Endangered Species Act in their back pockets to muck up the picture. Clinging with white knuckles to the phrase within the Act that stipulates; …The purposes of this Act are to “provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species, and to take such steps as may be appropriate to achieve the purposes of the treaties…..” (ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT OF 1973 (ESA) Sec 2; para. b). (emphasis added)
Despite decades of federal protection the Delta Smelt has continued to decrease in population. The reason for this decline is subject to a host of theories and no concrete conclusions. Most recently, the greens successfully lobbied the courts to severely curb the output of the Baker and Tracy pumping stations claiming that they are entraining and killing the threatened Delta Smelt.
In receiving this draconian judicial relief under the guise of species protection it put the needs of a fish over the needs of the State of California and its human population. By cutting off 85,000 acres of farmland to irrigation, devastating a major source of California revenue during a fiscal crisis, wreaking havoc on unemployment numbers in the state’s poorest region, and rationing drinking water supplies to 23 million Californians, the federal judge defined his idea of ‘appropriate steps’ as conferred through the Endangered Species Act..
Jim Jones, representing the environmental group, Save the American Rivers Association responded in a commentary for The Fresno Bee that the farmers need to grow different types of crops that don’t need as much water and oh, by the way, aren’t federally subsidized as heavily. Thank you for that tidbit of compassion, you Patagonia putz! If the enviros weren’t so predictably arrogant and sanctimonious they would be laughable.
But wait, there’s more! Here comes the comic/tragedy element to this fiasco. When U.S. District Court Judge Oliver W. Wanger lowered the boom on the Tracy pumping station output at the behest of the greens he did it based on their claims that it was the responsible fish killers. Unfortunately Judge Wanger failed to wait until further private and governmental analysis of this specious claim were complete. Not so incredibly, the govermental agency’s own analysis showed that man’s hydro-engineering system with all the habitat conservation bells and whistles probably isn’t the biggest factor in this sordid tale of smelt harvesting. Their conclusion was that the next level up on the aquatic food chain may indeed be the most vile villains. Even in the idyllic world of nature there are nice fish that eat other nice fish because that’s what they do – as Charles Darwin rolls his eyes in disgust from the grave at being marginalized. As it turns out the Delta Smelt is a tasty delicacy for no less than 16 other non-native predatory species that lurk around the Delta at spawning time for a good meal. Those are incredibly poor odds for a 3” defenseless fish against 16 separate armies of hungry smelt eaters that are lying in wait. Studies also show that these same predatory species hang out in the Baker and Tracy neighborhoods during spawning periods. Maybe, just maybe, the Delta Smelt isn’t ‘fit for survival’. As if life isn’t tough enough for the smelt, new studies out in 2008 indicate that hundreds of millions of gallons of waste water from sewer treatment plants along with pharmaceutical waste are discarded into the delta around Sacramento and Stockton thus presenting an environment that is so high in ammonia that it factors large on the list of suspected smelt killers. (2)
So convoluted is this tale of regulatory and legal mismanagement that Robert W. Johnson, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation for the U.S. Department of the Interior reported that “…the Delta Smelt is not well understood, and is frequently confused with another non-native species of smelt.” Amplifying on this point, Peter B. Moyle, Ph.D., Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology at the University California at Davis noted that the small Delta Smelt population may eventually become displaced by the wagasaki, or Japanese smelt (Hypomesus nipponensis), which was inadvertently introduced into reservoirs of the Sacramento River drainage by (drum roll, please) – the California Department of Fish and Game. Still other ‘experts’ in the game believe there may be no saving the poor Delta Smelt for extinction. ”The Delta Smelt is highly vulnerable to extinction because of its short life span, present small population size, and restricted distribution”” (Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, Five Year Review, March 31,2004).
Maybe we should pursue this issue the American way; by throwing more taxpayer money at it. But alas, the comprehensive governmental investigation recently concluded was conducted by dozens of agencies, academic, and consulting biologists, physical scientists, and engineers at a total cost of $8.6 million through calendar year 2007 and another $5.9 million in 2008 (House Natural Resources Committee, Jan. 2008, statement of Robert W. Johnson). I’d say that was sufficient. But what do I know, I’m just helping to foot the bill every April.
Meanwhile, the population of the San Joaquin Valley watch as their livelihoods are being stolen from under their noses by a bunch of feckless experts, extremists, bureaucrats, and a judge named Wanger.
This should be President Obama’s Hurricane Katrina with the valley’s farming communities replacing New Orleans as ground zero and the impoverished Hispanic communities substituting for NOLA’s displaced African-American population. The damage this hurricane presents has been avoidable. So far, those living this nightmare are the only ones able to connect those dots.