Officials called to conference on CA drought

September 30, 2009 10:18:26 PM PDT
The Obama administration on Wednesday urged California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to call state lawmakers into a special session to deal with the state's water crisis.

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California's drought and the battle for fresh water is getting the full attention of Washington. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar says the federal government is going to take the lead in responding to the ongoing water crisis.

Water from the Sacramento River Delta is the issue and farmers in the Central Valley want more of it.

The issue is how much can you take without killing the fish or causing the Delta to collapse.

At a meeting in Washington, angry words were exchanged.

Congressman Davin Nunes of Visalia says Bay Area lawmakers are hypocrites by voting to limit water to farmers while taking sierra water for San Francisco.

"Don't try to make excuses that you really care about the fish until you're willing to cut off your drinking supply to your constituents in San Francisco and the Bay Area," said Rep. Nunez.

That challenge plays well with farmers who came to San Francisco to protest this past summer. Hurt by three years of drought, they need more water for their farms.

"There's a fire burning in the Central Valley and Gosh darn it it's time to put that fire out," said Rep. Dennis Cardoza D-Merced.

Senator Dianne Feinstein tried to cool the rhetoric with a promise to help.

"The only way I know to help is in a real way with programs that will work," said Sen. Feinstein.

The federal work plan that came out of this meeting provides for habitat restoration projects, water quality monitoring and a science program to address key uncertainties and that's is really the meat of it for farmers.

Under George W. Bush, permissible water flows based on biological opinions tilted in favor of the farmers.

Deb Self is Executive Director of Bay Keeper. Her organization sued over those biological opinions and won. Those new standards were established and left more water for the fish.

"Bay Keeper feels very comfortable with the science that was done over the last several years," said Self.

Now farmers want that science reviewed to see if the fish really need all the water they're getting.

"All we're asking is to have a good biological opinion based on science and we'll live with whatever the ramifications of that outcome would be," said California Farm Bureau Vice President Paul Wenger.

The National Academy of Science will be in charge of the scientific review. Both the Farm Bureau and the environmental organizations ABC7 spoke to say the academy is a good choice.

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