Dear Senator Boxer:
As you know, Senator Dianne Feinstein has announced her intent to immediately address the movement of water throughout the state through an amendment (the Emergency Water Supply Amendment) to the jobs bill currently under consideration in Congress. We are contacting you, as our Senatorial representative, to respectfully ask for your immediate co-authorship and support for the adoption of this critical legislation.
California's Central Valley is in crisis, a situation recently described by a United States District Court as "catastrophic" for farms, businesses, cities, and counties that depend on water delivered by the Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project. There are currently federal restrictions on pumping water through the Delta to the federal CVP and the SWP -- water that is delivered to over two million acres of farmland and 27 million residents. These restrictions, intended to provide protections for certain fish in the Delta, have instead devastated communities across California by limiting desperately needed water where it is needed the most.
The Emergency Water Supply amendment would restore some balance by allowing reduced pumping to the Delta at a level no lower than -5000 cubic feet per second (CFS), a level already allowed under the court-issued "Biological Option" to protect the Delta smelt. The provision would be in effect for two years. It would not alter the Endangered Species Act.
We offer the following for your consideration:
There is demonstrated need for this amendment. The Central Valley faces record unemployment, significantly exceeding the state and national unemployment rate; in some small rural communities, up to 40% of workers are unemployed. Economists with the University of California, Davis estimate that because of reduced water supplies in 2009, the San Joaquin Valley lost more than 21,500 jobs, and calculate that the current restrictions are reducing regional economic output by $8 million a day. These trends are directly correlated to the restrictions on water movement to the San Joaquin Valley, where greater than half a million acres were fallowed or not farmed in 2009. Farmers, farm workers, transportation workers, small businesses, and numerous other sectors have been harmed. Adoption of the amendment will enable farmers in the Central Valley to receive approximately 40 percent of contracted allotment of water in 2010, compared to the zero percent to 10% currently allocated. Forty percent supply translates into enough water to irrigate approximately 175,000 acres of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the creation of 5400 new jobs.
This urgent situation must be addressed by immediate action. Immediate adoption of the amendment is essential because the continued operation of these federal restrictions is preventing California from capturing and storing hundreds of thousands of acre feet of fresh water from recent winter storms that are desperately needed by our farms and cities. Without the amendment, the federal rules will continue to restrict California's ability to move the massive amounts of water currently building up in Northern California in order to serve the two-thirds of the state's people who depend upon water pumped through the delta.
The current restrictions provide no balance and are grossly slanted against human need. The Emergency Water Supply Amendment restores some balance to a process that has had a catastrophic impact on the state's ability to nurture economically healthy communities. The impact on the Central Valley has been well-documented and is unchallenged. But water users across the state are also detrimentally affected. Water ratepayers in Southern California cannot afford to absorb the new rate hikes that are likely to be levied if water supplies continue to be limited. And although there are simply not enough water supplies to meet demand, developers are required by law to identify a 20-year reliable water supply as a condition for building, resulting in even greater deficits in already depressed local economies. This has already resulted in a stoppage of some development projects that might not be able to provide evidence of adequate water supply. A lack of reliable water supply could have an impact throughout Southern California, delaying a rebound in the housing market and eliminating construction jobs.
The Emergency Water Supply Amendment does not change the Endangered Species Act. Senator Feinstein's amendment does not waive or suspend the Endangered Species Act. Rather, the legislation follows the example of an earlier Congressional action that successfully resolved a similar crisis in New Mexico, which was passed unanimously in the Senate. The amendment would modify the application of the Endangered Species Act to ensure that pumping in California is not reduced below the level that numerous scientific studies have shown will be safe for the fish but still enable California's water system to serve the public.
The amendment does not modify the parameters already determined under the Biological Opinion. The amendment would set a lower limit on how much the federal fish agencies can reduce pumping. The Department of Water Resources and the numerous scientific studies that the National Academy of Sciences is currently reviewing indicate that there is no beneficial effect for salmon or smelt when the pumping is reduced below the limit set by Senator Feinstein's proposal.
The science behind the development of pumping restrictions has been questioned and is being reviewed. Serious questions have been raised by the Department of Water Resources and by public water agencies serving two thirds of the state's population concerning the adequacy of the science underlying the current federal limits on pumping. Despite the restrictions, there is no evidence the fish have benefited in any way. The National Academy of Sciences, at the request of Congress and the Obama Administration, has convened a special scientific panel to determine whether there was any scientific basis for the federal restrictions on pumping and what alternatives would do less damage to the human environment.
The amendment respects the framework for long-term solutions already in place. With the enactment of the 2009 Comprehensive Water package by the State Legislature and the potential of the passage of the $11.14 billion General Obligation bond in November, California now has a strong framework to address water storage/movement with a multi-faceted approach. However, the crisis at hand requires immediate relief. Nothing in the Emergency Water Supply Amendment supersedes, overrides, or modifies the current framework for addressing the water crisis.
Senator Boxer, we desperately need your leadership on this issue. This is a temporary and reasonable measure to address with the crisis at hand and we cannot survive another year while waiting for relief. We implore you to co-author this critical legislation and work for its immediate adoption, and stand ready to partner with you on the reformation of a prosperous, thriving California.