The U.S. House Congressional Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans will hold a hearing on controversial water drainage settlement legislation for the Westlands, San Luis and Panoche Water Districts on Tuesday, May 24, 2016 at 10:30 am.
The San Luis Drainage Resolution Act (H.R. 4366), sponsored by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), affirms a recent litigation settlement between the Obama administration and other parties in an attempt to bring about “final resolution to decades-long litigation over the federal government’s responsibility to provide drainage for certain lands in central California,” according to the hearing memo from John Fleming, Chairman. This one-panel hearing will also include consideration of two other bills.
The invited witnesses are John Bezdek , Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior; Tom Birmingham, General Manager, Westlands Water District; Jerry Brown, General Manager, Contra Costa Water District; Steve Ellis, Vice-President, Taxpayers for Common Sense; and Dennis Falaschi, General Manager, Panoche Water District.
The Obama Administration signaled its support for the settlement agreement in its April 21, 2016 letter to Representative Valadao expressing that “it is our belief that the Settlement results in significant savings to American taxpayers when compared to the unavoidable costs that would occur without the terms agreed to in the Settlement.”
One of the witnessess, Steve Ellis, is a critic of the deal. His group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington, DC watchdog group, said, “We just don’t think this is the best or even a good deal for taxpayers.”
Notably, the Committee did not invite those most impacted by the deal. These include commercial and recreational fishermen, the leaders of the Winnemem Wintu, Hoopa Valley, Yurok, Karuk and other Tribes, family farmers and others whose livelihoods have been imperiled by decades of exports of Trinity, Sacramento and San Joaquin River water to corporate agribusiness interests irrigating drainage-impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, said U.S. taxpayers, and Californians in particular, should be “alarmed” that H.R. 4366 and H.R. 5217 (Rep. Jim Costa, D-CA) are moving forward.
“The settlement agreement reached in September 2015 between the Obama Administration and these large industrial agricultural, special-interest water districts, will result in a $300 million taxpayer giveaway without addressing or solving the extreme water pollution these irrigation districts discharge into the San Joaquin River, and ultimately, the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary. It is exactly these types of taxpayer giveaways to corporations that have incensed voters in both parties this election year,” said Barrigan-Parrilla in a statement.
“Years ago, the California Department of Water Resources attempted to articulate numerous state concerns about this proposed drainage settlement that didn’t ensure a solution to the polluted water discharge problem and that didn’t include a full review under the National Environmental Policy Act. (See the attached 2007 letter from State officials to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials),” she said.
At the same time, she noted that there is a “deafening silence” from Governor Jerry Brown’s Administration on this settlement agreement and other federal legislation that will “bring harm” to the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary. Brown, who spoke on Saturday at the UFW Convention in Bakersfield, continues to promote the construction of the Delta Tunnnels, a public works project that Delta advocates consider to be potentially the most environmentally-destructive project in California history.
“Whether it’s a free pass on allowing the discharge of selenium, salt, and numerous pollutants back into the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary, or Senator Feinstein and Congressman Garamendi’s companion bills to over pump the Bay-Delta estuary for the benefit of these same irrigation districts, the Brown Administration has failed to weigh in on needed protections for the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary,” emphasized Barrigan-Parrilla. “Governor Brown continues to sell the Delta Tunnels to the public as benefitting the Bay-Delta estuary; if he cares about the health of the estuary, then why isn't he advocating for the Delta’s interests with the Federal government?”
Barrigan-Parrilla concluded, “It is heartbreaking to the people of the Delta that so many of our elected officials are willing to sacrifice the health of the Bay-Delta estuary for the benefit of a limited number of special interest irrigation districts that make up only 0.3% of the state’s GDP. Adding insult to injury, they are all comfortable with American citizens footing the bill for these big polluters.”
The Hoopa Valley Tribe filed its objection to H.R. 4366 and H.R. 5217, the two bills intended to implement the San Luis Settlement Agreement, saying the agreement would “forever condemn the Hoopa Valley Tribe to poverty.”
“Our Tribe is an indispensable party to this settlement,” said Chairman Ryan Jackson. “We notified Congress and the Bush and Obama Administrations on numerous occasions over the past several years of our concerns. Though we have been mostly ignored, rest assured, this legislation will not advance in absence of protection of our interests.”
Jackson said the Settlement Agreement contains Central Valley Project (CVP) water supply assurances (895,000 acre feet of water) for Westlands Water District that originate from the Trinity River, on which the Hoopa Valley Tribe “has depended for its fishery, economy and culture since time immemorial.”
“It is a travesty that the pristine waters of the Trinity Alps that have nurtured our people have been diverted from their natural course, sent 400 miles from our homeland and converted into toxic industrial waste by agribusiness in the Central Valley,” said Michael Orcutt, Hoopa Tribal Fisheries Director. (http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/5/24/1530400/-Hoopa-Valley-Tribe-San-Luis-Settlement-Agreement-Will-Forever-Condemn-Tribe-to-Poverty)