Spreck Rosekrans is an Economic Analyst at EDF.
Monday's Fresno Bee reported that Westlands Water District has asked that its proposed "drainage settlement" be tied to legislation to restore the San Joaquin River. Senator Feinstein said the two plans should be evaluated separately. She is right. The two problems – zero releases from Friant Dam to the San Joaquin River and contaminated drainage from farms in Westlands - are related but each can and should be solved separately.
Everyone who remembers the grotesque images of deformed ducks at Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge, caused by agriculturally-exacerbated selenium poisoning, agrees that the drainage must be cleaned up. The courts have ruled that the federal government (i.e. you, the taxpayer) bears responsibility for the multi-billion dollar price tag.
Westlands has offered to do the clean-up themselves, but their proposal includes not only drainage but also revised rules for environmental water, acreage limitations, and water contracts. We are pleased that Westlands is proposing to take assume responsibility for management of its own drainage, but there are too many unanswered questions at this time for us to take a position one way or another.
As for the San Joaquin, we look forward to seeing water in the river and congratulate the Natural Resources Defense Council and others for their legal perseverance. But we recognize, as they do, that fish will not survive unless habitat is restored as well. Legislation that includes a more comprehensive plan, not merely a legal settlement with required water releases, is necessary.