Highlights from the hearing

I wasn’t in Fresno for today’s field hearing on water issues, and I tuned in to the webcast for only for a short time, but here were some of the exchanges that caught my attention.

• U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) — who isn’t on the Subcommittee on Water and Power, but sat at the dais nonetheless — grilled salmon fisherman Larry Collins a couple of times over the fisherman’s assertion that farmland on the west side of the Valley should be retired. Among the Congressman’s questions: The pumps are man-made, right? What about the farms in the Delta? Are those man-made? Should we tear down all those levees because they’re man-made?

“Why do we pick on some man-made projects and not others?” Nunes asked.

Then: “Who stopped you from fishing?”

Collins: “The government,” because of the declining salmon runs. “We don’t want to fish the last salmon,” he said.

Nunes: “I want to state for the record it was the government that stopped Mr. Collins from fishing, not the pumps.” And the crowd applauded.

• Westlands Water District General Manager Tom Birmingham testified that water users in the San Joaquin Valley have lost in excess of 1 million acre-feet of water annually, water that is now being used to enhance fish and wildlife. That doesn’t account for some programs, he said, such as Trinity River restoration which has also taken a bite out of Central Valley Project supplies.

• Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) pulled out charts showing the decline in salmon over the past five years or so. “The solution is going to require a lot of cooperation and it’s going to require a toning down of the rhetoric, although I’ve certainly had my share of it over the years,” he said.

Nunes later pointed out that Garamendi’s charts started around 2005, when salmon returns were abnormally high, thus exaggerating the scope of the recent decline.

• Nunes also went toe-to-toe with Contra Costa County Supervisor Mary Piepho, who represented the five Delta counties including San Joaquin. Nunes asked Piepho directly if she supported a peripheral canal.

“We prefer through-Delta conveyance,” she said.

To which Nunes asked if Contra Costa County takes any responsibility for problems in the Delta. Piepho acknolweged  that there are many stressors but said freshwater flows are important.

“Is it fair that freshwater from this area (meaning Fresno) is taken away and San Francisco’s water supply from Hetch Hetchy, they’ve had to give up zero?” Nunes asked.

Piepho said she doesn’t represent San Francisco.

“But you’re willing to advocate for taking our water supply?”

“I didn’t say that,” she said. “… The Delta’s been over-committed to the state’s water supply and we all have an obligation to preserving and protecting the Delta.”

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