EDITORIAL: Bipartisan effort delivers water for Valley agriculture

FresnoJanuary 30, 2014 

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will release 340,000 acre-feet of water in the San Luis Reservoir to west-side farmers for this growing season.

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

First the early morning skies Thursday dropped about one-fifth of an inch of rain on parched Fresno. After more than 50 consecutive days without precipitation, the air was now fit to breathe and people rejoiced.

Then something bigger happened: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor said that 340,000 acre-feet of water stored at San Luis Reservoir on behalf of west-side farmers would be released to them for use during the growing season.

You are entitled to ask: If the water belonged to these farmers, why were they in danger of losing it? The short answer is that water law is complicated, and other farmers (and water districts) have senior water rights over these west-side growers.

The west-side growers can thank U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Reps. Jim Costa, Kevin McCarthy, Devin Nunes and David Valadao for the rare good news in this third consecutive year of drought.

On Saturday, in a display of the bipartisanship that is needed to keep our country moving forward (in good times and bad times), they wrote Connor a letter imploring him to send the water to the farmers and water districts that had paid $150 million for it and had conserved it in anticipation of another dry year.

Yes, the facts and logic of their arguments were strong. Yes, we are in an emergency situation. But the power of bipartisanship — three Democrats and three Republicans — signing their names to the same letter had to carry considerable weight, too.

"I am proud elected officials on both sides of the aisle were able to work together to resolve this issue for our constituents," Valadao, a Hanford Republican, said in a news release.

"By presenting a united, bipartisan front, we ensured that the Valley's concerns were heard loud and clear by the (Obama) administration," Costa, a Fresno Democrat, said in a prepared statement.

The drought has brought scorching sunlight to California's water problems. The state needs more water-storage capacity. It needs a better delivery system. And it must restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to good ecological health.

But these are challenges that will be worked through in the years ahead.

This drought is creating problems that must be solved in days and weeks. One of them is ensuring that cities on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley, such as Orange Cove and Lindsay, receive at least some of their contracted San Joaquin River water. After being treated, it becomes drinking water in these towns.

As we said in our Jan. 23 editorial, the water held behind Friant Dam is too precious in this emergency situation to be released downstream for San Joaquin River restoration.

The restoration releases should end as soon as possible so that the water can go to where it's needed most.

When the drought ends and reservoirs are replenished, restoration must then resume.

We urge Feinstein, Boxer, Costa, McCarthy, Nunes and Valadao to team up again to help provide drinking water to the Valley communities that will desperately need it this summer.

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