EDITORIAL: Feinstein's strong words for environmentalists

Senator says they provide no help on water policy.

May 16, 2014 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is finally saying what many Valley residents have said for decades: You can't grow crops without water. And you need a place to store water during wet years.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

Well, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California really has touched a nerve this time.

After years of politically paddling a little to the left and a little to the right, it appears she might leave her environmentalist friends on the left behind -- once and for all.

This week, Feinstein told Carolyn Lochhead, the San Francisco Chronicle's Washington, D.C., correspondent, that environmentalists "have never been helpful to me in producing good water policy."

Feinstein, whose Senate Bill 2198 would pave the way for more water exports to farms and cities from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, also told Lochhead: "You can't have a water infrastructure for 16 million people and say, 'Oh, it's fine for 38 million people,' when we're losing the Sierra Nevada snowpack.' "

Cheers for Feinstein. She finally is saying what many San Joaquin Valley residents have said for decades. You can't grow crops without water. And you can't squeeze more use out of water unless you have places to store the extra water in wet years and the means to move that water to farmland.

Environmentalists quoted in Lochhead's story were none too pleased with Feinstein. Bob Wright, a lawyer with Friends of the River, said that Feinstein was using California's historic drought to "cater to the wishes of powerful growers in Westlands and Kern County water districts."

Jon Rosenfield, a conservation biologist at the Bay Institute, said that Feinstein had it all wrong: "We've all spent vast amounts of time and resources to design a plan to upgrade California's water infrastructure and increase water supply and reliability."

The problem is, Valley farmers have yet to benefit from those grand plans and designs. Thousands of acres of land are being fallowed to the detriment of an economy that already is one of the weakest in the nation.

Lest the environmentalists forget: The Valley economy was steered to agriculture by federal and state policymakers throughout the 20th century. If farming is to no longer be the engine that drives our region, what will be the replacement?

Feinstein's efforts to bring more water to the Valley in dry years such as the last three are driven by compassion. She has seen the food lines. She has seen farmworkers (and their bosses) protest the environmental restrictions that divert water deliveries from the Valley. And maybe she is tired of some environmentalists valuing a bait fish more than gainful employment for folks at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Reasonable people can sit down and work out solutions to difficult challenges. We hope that Feinstein's strong words will be a wake-up call to environmentalists to get off their high horses and help solve California's water problems.

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