Putting Fish Before People

Today on the House floor the release by the Bureau of Reclamation of more than 70,000 acre feet of water from dams on the American and Stanislaus rivers in Northern California was highlighted by Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA).

The water releases were made to meet environmental demands that place fish above people. These releases were made in spite of a devastating drought and dwindling water supply where the water will be desperately needed this summer.

“We cannot demand that our people scrimp and save and stretch and ration every drop of water in their parched homes, while at the same time, this government treats our remaining water supply so recklessly, so irresponsibly, and so wastefully,” noted Congressman McClintock in his remarks. “This conduct utterly destroys the credibility of government demands for stringent conservation and sacrifice by our people, and it thoroughly undermines its moral authority to make these demands.”

Full House floor remarks:

Putting Fish Before People
May 8, 2014

Mr. Speaker:

California is suffering one of the worst droughts in its history. More than a half-million acres of the most fertile farmland in the nation have been devastated. Some Central Valley farmers have been notified that they will receive ZERO water allocations this year from the federal system. The owners of long-held water rights are being cut off.

In some communities, “water police” go from door to door to enforce water restrictions. Homeowners are forbidden to water their lawns except under the most rigid constraints. Sacramento offers an “app” so people can turn in neighbors to the water authorities.

And yet, knowing full well we are facing a devastating drought and that our dwindling water supply will be desperately needed by our people this summer, over the past several weeks the Bureau of Reclamation has released more than 70,000 acre feet of water from dams on the American and Stanislaus rivers to meet environmental demands that place fish above people.

That is enough water to meet the ANNUAL needs of a city of half a million people – all sacrificed in order to flush salmon smolts to the ocean (where they tend to swim anyway) and to keep the river at just the right temperature for the comfort of the fish.

The releases of this water are so enormous they are called “pulse flows.” Citizens are warned to exercise extreme caution on rivers undergoing pulse flows – so swift is the water current they produce as that water rushes toward the ocean.

Four months ago, Folsom Lake on the American River was almost empty. Yet on April 21st, the Bureau of Reclamation more than tripled water releases from Folsom and Nimbus dams from 500 cubic feet per second to more than 1,500 cubic feet per second for three days – about 7,000 acre feet of water.

On April 14th, a 16-day pulse flow drained nearly 63,000 acre feet of water from New Melones and Goodwin Dams on the Stanislaus.

The irony is that if we hadn’t built these dams, these rivers would be nearly dry in this drought and there wouldn’t be any fish.

We cannot demand that our people scrimp and save and stretch and ration every drop of water in their parched homes while at the same time, this government treats our remaining water supply so recklessly, so irresponsibly and so wastefully.

This conduct utterly destroys the credibility of government demands for stringent conservation and sacrifice by our people, and it thoroughly undermines its moral authority to make these demands.

Inflexible laws administered by ideologically driven officials have taken this wastage of water to ridiculous extremes, and it cries out for fundamental reform.

The House twice has passed such a reform bill, most recently as HR 3964, but the Senate refuses to act on it or to pass its own alternative.

Nevertheless, the administration has the authority to stop these releases through provisions in the Endangered Species Act, but it has failed to do so.

Mr. Speaker, we use the word “outrage” too often on this floor, but in this case, it is an understatement.

If a homeowner is caught with a one gallon puddle on his lawn on the wrong day, he can be severely fined. But the government thinks nothing of flushing 23 billion gallons of desperately needed water this past month for the comfort and convenience of the fish.

How much longer will the people tolerate this kind of mismanagement from their government? How much longer will we allow these policies to threaten the health, safety and prosperity of the human population throughout these drought-afflicted lands?

California’s chronic water shortages won’t be addressed without additional storage. There are plenty of suitable and affordable sites, but current environmental laws have delayed them indefinitely and made them cost-prohibitive.

Until those laws are changed and new dam construction can begin, our state and federal governments have a responsibility to manage our dwindling water supply as carefully as we ask our citizens to do.

The wildly frivolous and extravagant water releases from our dams last month make a mockery of the extraordinary sacrifices that our citizens are making to stretch supplies in this crisis.

Perhaps, at least, they will serve to educate the public on just how unreasonable are these environmental laws -- and the policy makers responsible for them.


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