Farmers protest California water plan aimed to save salmon

2018-08-21 17:32


Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Hundreds of California farmers rallied at the Capitol on Monday to protest state water officials' proposal to increase water flows in a major California river, a move state and federal politicians called an overreach of power that would mean less water for farms in the Central Valley.

"If they vote to take our water, this does not end there," said Republican state Sen. Anthony Cannella. "We will be in court for 100 years."

Environmentalists and fisherman offered a different take on the other side of the Capitol to a much smaller audience.

"For the 50 years corporate agriculture has been getting fat," said Noah Oppenheim of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "Salmon fisheries have been tightening belts."

The charged rhetoric came a day before the California State Water Resources Control Board was set to discuss its proposal to change water flows in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which supplies water for the majority of California's people and massive swaths of farmland.

The plan would double the amount of water that must flow freely through the Low San Joaquin River and three of its tributaries from February to June, meaning less water can be diverted for farming or other needs. It's an effort to protect the state's declining salmon population; the state estimates just 10 000 fall-run salmon returned to the San Joaquin Basin in 2017, compared to 70 000 in 1985. The change is an attempt to mimic natural water flows that help the salmon thrive.

State water officials have called the Delta an "ecosystem in crisis".

Maximising water deliveries

How California manages and uses its water has long been a topic of hot political debate, falling more along regional lines than partisan ones and pitting agricultural interests against environmental ones. Beyond farming interests, politicians in the Central Valley say the plan would limit their access to drinking water.

"When was it a crime to grow food for our tables," said Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas of Bakersfield. "When was it a crime to demand that we have safe drinking water?"

The water board has postponed its final vote on the plan to an unspecified date.

The Trump administration has also weighed in. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called it a "water grab" that would "cripple the Central Valley's economy, farms and community", after visiting the region with Republican US Rep. Jeff Denham in July. He urged the state water board to delay its vote.

Increasing flows would harm the federally-managed Central Valley Project's ability to move and store water through its network of dams and reservoirs, Zinke has argued. On Friday he tasked his staff with developing a plan to help maximise water deliveries, construct new water storage and reassess legal interpretations around California's water management.

Several farmers at the Capitol rally said the water board's move would hurt their businesses.

"They want to control every drop of water in the state of California," said Henry Holland, a rancher in Browns Valley, an unincorporated community north of Sacramento.

Supporters of the plan, though, had a different take.

"The salmon are on the brink of extinction in the Central Valley," said Peter Drekmeier, policy director of the Tuolumne River Trust. "It's not just for the environment – it's for the fishers and the people who enjoy salmon."

KEEP UPDATED on the latest news by subscribing to our FREE newsletter.

- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter

Read more on:    us  |  water restrictions  |  marine life

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.