Thousands Sign California Water Petition

The "Save our Water, Save Our Jobs" petition campaign came to a conclusion Wednesday, with notification to both Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Obama Administration that more than 12,000 petition-signers want the federal Endangered Species Committee – the so-called "God Squad" – to be convened to deal with California’s government-caused water emergency.

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The campaign was organized by the Pacific Legal Foundation, the organization that filed suit in May against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of three San Joaquin Valley tree nut growers. The efforts were detailed in the cover story, “Water Woes,” that appeared in the July issue of American/Western Fruit Grower. The lawsuit challenges federal authority to regulate for a small fish, the Delta smelt, which has led to sharply reduced pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The petition drive culminated with a press conference on the west steps of the California State Capitol in Sacramento that attracted a number of high-profile supporters, including: Congressman George Radanovich (R-Fresno); State Sen. Jeff Denham (R-Merced); Denise Davis, a vice president of the California Chamber of Commerce; Dave Puglia, senior vice president of Western Growers; and San Joaquin Valley businessman Piedad Ayala, with the Water for All organization, who came with a number of farm workers.

At the press conference, the foundation’s president, Rob Rivett, outlined the problem. "This year, San Joaquin Valley farmers, farmworkers, businesses, rural communities, and cities, have suffered a terrible blow because of draconian water reductions due to harsh federal environmental regulations," he said. "Recently, new federal Endangered Species Act restrictions have been proposed that will worsen this water crisis in California. The 12,000-plus names on Pacific Legal Foundation’s ‘Save our Water’ Petition show that the public realizes that California is facing a water emergency, and emergency action is required. The Endangered Species Committee must be convened to save the California economy from even more destructive water cutbacks than have already been imposed by government regulators."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has imposed devastating cutbacks on water pumping into California’s main water system as part of a regulatory scheme to protect the Delta smelt, said Rivett. These water cutbacks have contributed to an estimated loss of tens of thousands of jobs and the idling of more than 250,000 acres in farmland. Some rural communities are experiencing horrendous unemployment, such as Mendota’s 40% rate.

Now, sweeping new reductions in water supplies loom as part of a "biological opinion" relating to several other species, including Chinook salmon and steelhead, he said. These further cuts in pumping and water supplies are estimated to remove an additional 500,000 acre-feet of water, the amount that is required to serve two million people annually.

"California should be known for the Rose Bowl, not a Dust Bowl, but there’s danger of a Dust Bowl being created in the Central Valley by extreme ESA regulations," said Rivett. "Instead of stimulating jobs, federal environmental officials are turning recession into depression and stimulating economic hardship for businesses, farms, and families. California is faced with an emergency, and summoning the God Squad is a justified and needed response to meet the crisis."