Video: Federal policies failing the Central Valley

posted at 10:55 am on January 13, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Reason TV gives a report on the problems plaguing California’s Central Valley, once a breadbasket to the world, and now a government-created basket case of dust, unemployment, poverty, and now starvation. The short documentary focuses on two federal policies that heavily impact the farming region, the first water policy and environmentalism, and the second immigration:

California’s Central Valley is a 450 mile long stretch of flat and fertile land that produces much of the food that we enjoy every day. But the people in small towns like Mendota (the cantaloupe capital of the world) are suffering these days, in part due to two federal policies.

In order to protect a threatened fish species called the Delta Smelt, much of the water that used to be pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to farms on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley is now allowed to flow into the ocean. The result is predictable: hundreds of thousands of acres of farm land lies fallow and tens of thousands of jobs have been lost. In Mendota, the unemployment rate is over 40% and food lines are the norm.

But people going hungry in a region dominated by agriculture is only one of the contradictions in the Central Valley.

Nearly all the valley’s farm workers are immigrants from Mexico and Central America, and many of them are undocumented. These people are crucial to the valley’s economy, but they’re breaking the law according to the federal government.

Without doubt, immigration policy impacts farming areas like the Central Valley (as well as the Midwestern plains), but the problems in the Central Valley now have nothing to do with federal enforcement of immigration law.  The enforcement of the law has been spotty at best during the last three administrations.  Nor has Congress done much about it; building a fence on the California border shifted the crossings to Arizona, which has had to deal with the traffic and its attendant issues.

The crisis in the Central Valley comes directly from the application of the Endangered Species Act to the Delta smelt, one of a number of bait fish species indigenous to the area.  The order by a federal judge relying on that law cut off irrigation to a massive area of arable land and created a vast wasteland out of a farming bonanza, all to protect one species of inedible fish.  Congress needs to curtail the ESA and get the water turned back on in the valley.

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If the problem is the smelt being sucked into the pumps, wouldn’t a series of filters or screens upstream, to separate the fish prior to the pump intake, solve the problem?

What am I missing here?

scituate_tgr on January 13, 2011 at 4:42 PM

My schooling is in water stuff so I toured the whole valley’s water system a few times to see canal design and control up close and personal. One thing we saw was the $9 million fish screen- a series of metal plates with little slits to let the water through but to protect the smelt. One issue is that as the Delta rises from extra water during the rainy season the water pressure on the screen causes the smelt to get, basically extruded through the screen. It also fills up with random debris- sticks, plastic bags, slime, etc.

On my visit I saw Delta Smelt three pump stations up from the fish screen. They had made it through the screen, through three sets of impellers, and the little effers were still alive, swimming happily in the canal. This whole thing is a terrible travesty.

NTWR on January 13, 2011 at 6:33 PM

Maybe the ground up smelt make the soil fertile.

People who support the smelt should be required to pay a 200% surcharge at the grocery store.

Russ86 on January 13, 2011 at 6:36 PM

It is nothing short of gut wrenching to see….all for a stupid bait fish……

yes, Clinton appointed judge….

SDarchitect on January 13, 2011 at 10:58 AM

I speculate that the judge simply applied the law as written, which is his job. As the saying goes, justice is God’s problem.

Owen Glendower on January 13, 2011 at 10:27 PM

If the Delta Smelt is that specialized and localized to one single stream.

Then let it go extinct. In fact it *should* go extinct and to ‘protect’ it is to interfere with it’s natural progression to the dustbin of evolution.

Extinction is a perfectly natural process which makes way for more hardier species. Without extinctions most of the species which now exist probably wouldn’t – including the Delta Smelt.

Of course with environmentalists nowdays – its not about the Delta Smelt – its about dictating people’s lives.

CrazyFool on January 14, 2011 at 1:08 AM

There is only one reason a species goes extinct – its evolutionary branch is less competitive than other close ones.

But this does not fit emotional belief systems.

Caststeel on January 14, 2011 at 4:06 AM

I agree with the posts about specialization of species.
As stewards, most definitely we should do everything we can to ensure species don’t die at our hands needlessly.
But in the end, we are a species here, too.
And we as humans have every right to participate in the ecology of this planet.
There are lots of other animals & plants that actually modify their habitats, often to the detrmient of other species’.
That’s the way it goes.
Mankind can be particularly destructive, but in America, and many other developed countries, we have become more aware & much better at minimizing our impact.
That said, the Delta smelt, if it does not survive, will not cause the Earth to explode or die.
The Gaia hypothesis is not really a hypothesis at all since it cannot be tested.
And that bone headed idea is rejected soundly by ecologists in the main stream.
Even my bunny loving tree hugger ecology text I use in my classroom mentions the futileness of the Gaia idea.

Badger40 on January 14, 2011 at 8:36 AM

as I understand it these fish are not native.

FireBlogger on January 14, 2011 at 8:55 AM

Thank you, Democrats.

DL13 on January 14, 2011 at 9:12 AM

I speculate that the judge simply applied the law as written, which is his job. As the saying goes, justice is God’s problem.

Owen Glendower on January 13, 2011 at 10:27 PM

Whereas other judges do a game of Jurisprudence Twister to come up with an application of law that is so unconstitutional (McCain/Feingold anyone? American With Disabilities Act, both signed by Republican Presidents).

Amendment X on January 14, 2011 at 12:42 PM

As stewards, most definitely we should do everything we can to ensure species don’t die at our hands needlessly.

Yah, nature is fairly ruthless in that respect.

Amendment X on January 14, 2011 at 12:44 PM

As stewards, most definitely we should do everything we can to ensure species don’t die at our hands needlessly.

I agree, but to what end? Do we sacrifice our children’s future to this? Do we throw people out of their jobs, force their families into poverty? Do we force starvation on our planet when this valley can grow sufficient crops to feed the world?

Until those support this position can come with viable answers to these questions, they will suffer from a reasonable perception of caring less for people and more from animals.

itsspideyman on January 14, 2011 at 10:50 PM

Noted Badger40, you agree with this.

itsspideyman on January 14, 2011 at 10:54 PM

Remember you and your job are next on the list. Obama promised that electricity prices would “necessarily skyrocket” as a by product of “reversing” global warming. What will happen to your employer when electricity rates are 5-10x what they are now due to EPA regulations?

In CA we are lucky enough to also have Arnold’s pride and joy standing by to be implemented: carbon controls.

in_awe on January 16, 2011 at 10:48 PM