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Fish
San Francisco Chronicle, February 15, 2010

Sen Dianne Feinstein's fishy water deal

Sen. Dianne Feinstein should drop her end-run bid to ship delta water south for farming. Her plan defies court rulings, endangered-species protections and scientific studies.


The water grab disrupts years of negotiations over balancing the state's needs by rewarding one group - drought-stricken farmers - at the expense of fishing and environmental groups, also living with declining water supplies. Worse yet, Feinstein's action short-circuits a study she ordered up by the National Academy of Sciences on river-flow rules designed to safeguard smelt and salmon.

The senator was at pains to explain that her idea is only in draft form, suggesting that it may be a negotiating tactic. She's plainly frustrated over limits on water usage, given a heavy Sierra snowpack, rivers filled by winter storms and record jobless levels in the Central Valley. It's an approach she took last year when she pushed for the study of water policy, due this spring.

She's advanced a plausible argument, but any solution needs analysis and group agreement. Water deliveries to some farmers are 10 percent of past levels, and she's proposing to boost these allotments to 30 to 40 percent.

Feinstein's plan would greatly help the parched west side of the San Joaquin Valley, where farmers have idled hundreds of thousands of acres for lack of water.

But her suggestion couldn't come at a worse time. Last year, Sacramento leaders reached a bipartisan solution on improvements to the delta's depleted water levels, a breakthrough deal built on concessions from all sides. Feinstein's push to reward one interest group is "like throwing a grenade into everything we worked on last year," said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat who played a key negotiating role.

In addition, a fishery management report last week found that Sacramento River salmon stocks are at a record low point, a level that may lead to the third straight canceled fishing season. The fish depend on steady flows in the river, a main source for water Feinstein wants diverted.

California water policy needs a political champion willing to take on a complicated issue. That means adopting a balanced approach, not one that bails out one side at the expense of all others.

© 2010 Hearst Communications Inc.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton