At a water forum he organized, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, on Wednesday urged a packed room of farmers to support putting initiatives onto the ballot to build more dams and water storage projects in the state.
“If we built these five (projects), we’d never have a water shortage in this state,” Nunes said.
Nunes urged farm bureaus and agricultural groups to coordinate a statewide message of ballot measures that would authorize dams at Sites and Temperance Flat, expansion of the San Luis and Los Vaqueros reservoirs, and raising Shasta Dam.
Seventy-six percent of the water that enters the Delta goes out to the ocean. The bottom line is there is plenty of water.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia
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The San Joaquin Valley, with about 10 percent of the state’s population, lacks the political clout of other regions, he said.
“You can only win by winning the hearts and minds of the people of California,” he said.
Federal laws that affect water flows in the San Joaquin River Delta must be changed, he said, urging both local politicians and farm groups to unite and make waves.
Hundreds of farmers assembled at the Heritage Complex in Tulare to listen to Nunes and panelists he invited to the water forum.
KMJ radio host Ray Appleton moderated. Panelists were Westlands Water District deputy general manager Johnny Amaral, Friant Water Authority chief executive Jason Phillips, groundwater management expert David Orth, farmer Kole Upton and Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford.
No environmental groups’ representatives were on the panel.
Students from Fresno Unified School District and Visalia Unified were in the audience. The event was standing room only.
Despite drought, an excessive amount of water is being allowed to flow to the ocean through the Delta, Nunes said.
“Seventy-six percent of the water that enters the Delta goes out to the ocean,” he said. “The bottom line is there is plenty of water.”
But water officials tell him that they follow federal law when they regulate flows, he said.
Pointing to a chart, he said there’s no connection between water flows and the number of fish as is commonly believed.
I feel optimistic, but there’s a huge ‘maybe.’
Peter Elgorriaga, farmer
“More water down the Delta does not equate to more salmon,” he said.
The answer is to pressure Congress – especially the Senate – to pass bills amending the Endangered Species Act, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act and the San Joaquin River settlement, he said.
Additionally, the cities and counties of Fresno, Madera, Kern, Kings and Tulare must unite on the issue and demand that legislation be passed, he said.
“Why isn’t the five-county region united? … It’s outrageous,” he said. “If we do not, we’ll have 1 million acres out of production in 10 years.”
Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon, a walnut farmer, said he understands Nunes’ call to arms.
“We need to join forces and speak as one voice,” he said.
Almond farmer Larry Serpa of Fresno said he is ready to act.
“I’ll be communicating with my irrigation district that all farmers need to band together,” he said.
Westside farmer Peter Elgorriaga said he hopes the public will listen to farmers.
“I feel optimistic, but there’s a huge ‘maybe,’ ” he said. “A large percentage of the Central Valley doesn’t know where their food comes from.”