The Terra News

Farmers gain ground in California water wars as bill passes House Published Thursday, Mar. 15, 2012

San Joaquin Valley farmers, desperate for a more stable water supply, may have finally hit a gusher.

Over the past decade, Valley farmers have converted thousands of acres from row crops to more lucrative permanent crops, like almonds, pistachios and mandarin oranges. Worth more than $1 billion annually, these need a consistent water supply to thrive.

Instead, the imported water these farmers rely upon from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has been erratic, varying according to drought, fishery protections, court rulings and politics.

To get more water, Valley irrigation districts have tried lawsuits against the Endangered Species Act. They've tried persuading state and federal officials to amend the law. They have purchased habitat in the Delta in hopes of breeding more of the endangered fish that are gumming up Delta diversion pumps.

These brought incremental gains. A bigger win is now in sight with the Feb. 29 passage in the House of Representatives of a bill that would upend decades of environmental regulation and more than a century of legal precedent.

The bill, HR 1837, was written by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia. It would guarantee San Joaquin Valley farmers far more north state water than they can now expect. It would limit the Endangered Species Act from interfering in those water deliveries. And it would impose strict new limits on state law, forbidding California water and wildlife agencies from imposing their own authority to restore the Delta.

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