Friday, December 08, 2006

San Joaquin River

What had once appeared to be settled it obviously not and nothing should be decided until all the stakeholders are in agreement, which while taking a long time, is the best way to proceed.

Conflicting San Joaquin River plans
Lawmakers pushing vastly different ways to resolve fish-agriculture dispute.
By Michael Doyle - Bee Washington Bureau Published 12:00 am PST Friday, December 8, 2006

Turbulence surrounding the San Joaquin River continues, complicating efforts to resolve a long-running conflict pitting fish against farmers.

Several lawmakers on Wednesday introduced an ambitious bill to restore the river. Another maneuvered aggressively Tuesday with a competing plan. No one can predict how the next Congress will shake out.

"We owe it to my water folks to try to pass this," said Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.

Radanovich and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have set out one approach by formally introducing a consensus San Joaquin River restoration bill. It has a total estimated federal price tag of $490 million, and depends on some $100 million in additional state funds.

Restoration means returning water and the Chinook salmon to the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam. The money would pay for channel improvements, fish screens, bypass canals and other work needed to get the fish back in the river by Dec. 31, 2012.

The congressional effort is needed to complete settlement of an 18-year-old lawsuit in which the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups challenged the federal government and farmers served by Friant Dam.

With the 109th Congress set to expire today, Feinstein conceded the San Joaquin River bill won't pass this year. Introducing it now, though, sets the stage for next year. It also symbolically salutes the lawsuit settlement, which called for legislation to be passed by year's end.

"This is really a place marker," Feinstein said.

But even as Radanovich and Feinstein were tuning up their bill, the lawmaker who represents most Friant-area farmers on the San Joaquin Valley's east side joined the battle by going his own way.

"This is a major catastrophe waiting to happen," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare. "If we're going to re-wet the river, let's do it the right way."

Nunes distrusts the proposed San Joaquin River settlement, which he says was crafted by "a couple of lawyers and lobbyists in a room."