The Underground has never been a big fan of Senator Diane Feinstein, and we’re happy to heave rotting fruit at the Westlands Irrigation District pretty much any day of the week, so when the two decide to work together to strip the few remaining protections for California’s collapsing Sacramento River salmon, get ready for a barn burner.

From High Country News: Feinstein’s Water Bomb

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is preparing to introduce a legislative rider that would dramatically reduce Endangered Species Act protection for salmon and other fish in California. The amendment would lift restrictions on the amount of water that farmers can pump from the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta for the next two years. But it could also scuttle a delicately negotiated effort to balance protections for endangered fish with the water needs of farms and residents of Southern California.

Feinstein’s effort comes as the state seems bound for the third year of an emergency fishing ban to protect dwindling salmon runs, and as populations of the Delta smelt and other fish continue to crash. And the move is a remarkable turnaround: Just four months ago, Feinstein denounced Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, for trying to introduce a similar amendment at the behest of California water districts.

Feinstein’s office declined repeated requests for details and comment yesterday, but insiders familiar with the matter say that the Senator’s reversal is largely due to lobbying by the Westlands Water District. Last year, after three years of drought, the federal government cut water deliveries to many irrigation districts in the San Joaquin Valley. Westlands, which is the largest district of its kind in the nation, was hit the hardest, and saw its supply of water from the Delta dwindle to just 10 percent of the amount it holds contracts for.

Woo-hoo! Strip away ESA protections on the Delta – just as many of its native fish populations are collapsing?

Westlands has recently launched offensive after offensive on the California Delta – and this after many years of essentially draining the Trinity River.

Feinstein – who happily supported Westland’s buyout of the McCloud River Bollibokka property by Westlands – has also been a longtime supporter of raising Shasta Dam (so you can imagine she won’t be seeing any checks from our admittedly impoverished part of the world).

She’s also been willing to engange in negotiations with Westlands about ceding them literally billions of dollars of water – and this for an irrigation district whose land is rich in selenium, and probably never should have been irrigated in the first place.

Anyone want to guess where Ms. Feinstein’s campaign money comes from these days?

Later, the New West story makes it clear how little gutting ESA protections will actually mean to Westlands:

But pushing aside the federal pumping restrictions intended to protect threatened smelt and endangered salmon would solve only part of the district’s problem. Fish-related restrictions account for just 15 to 20 percent of the cutbacks, according to an independent analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California. The vast majority of the water shortage is due to the drought. (For an in-depth exploration, see Breakdown).

Westlands’ battle against the pumping restrictions has nonetheless reached a heart attack-inducing pace. Last week, the district led a confederation of farm-water agencies in asking federal district judge Oliver Wanger to order the federal government to run its Delta pumps at maximum capacity. That helped capture the surge of water delivered by a massive winter storm, but the reprieve lasted just six days before the government had to throttle down its pumps. On Wednesday, Westlands and other water users asked Wanger to order that those pumps be started up again, but the judge denied that motion.

The problem isn’t the overused, factually inaccurate “favoring fish over people” meme so widely misused in the Central Valley.

Instead, the issue is more simply this: The water in the California Delta has been overpromised to the point the whole shebang isn’t sustainable. Throw in a little drought, and you’ve got the legal madhouse that is the California Water Wars.

Those with a minute or two and the inclination might want to visit Ms. Feinstein’s “contact” page on her Web site, and and send a nice, respectful email like:

Ms. Feinstein:

I’ve read – with considerable alarm – about your plan to gut ESA protections for the California Delta, a move which would further harm one of California’s already-failing salmon runs.

With the current pumping restrictions accounting for only 15%-20% of Westlands shortfall, it’s clear the problem isn’t one of favoring fish over people – it’s one of California’s water being egregiously overpromised.

Dooming salmon populations – and possibly the remnants of California’s commercial salmon fishermen – in favor of a water district that is already the recipient of billions of our taxpayer dollars is clearly a bad idea, and I hope you’ll reconsider your stance.


Due to a lack of time, I’ve eased up on the California Water Wars posts, but sometimes it gets so bad you can’t ignore it.

This is one of those times.

See you getting cranky, Tom Chandler.