Government shuts off water to California farms in controversial effort to help threatened species

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

NOAA photo of California drought conditions

A farming town in California claims that it may disappear due to the United States federal government shutting off water pumps, though the government states the actions are necessary to save several marine species.

In July 2009, action by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation to protect threatened fish stopped irrigation pumping to parts of the California Central Valley causing canals leading into Huron, California and the surrounding areas and the farms that rely on them to lose their primary irrigation source. Unemployment has reached 40% in some areas as the farms have dried up.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stated the action is putting the fish "above the needs of millions of Californians."

Highlighting the city's plight, Huron Police Chief Frank Steenport stated, "A year from now, [Huron] may not be here."

Protesters at the interview - Photo by Todd Fitchette

In an interview in Huron on Tuesday, comedian Paul Rodriguez, whose mother owns a farm in the area, criticized the actions of the government and called for President Barack Obama to review the decision. "This used to be an almond orchard. Now all that is left is firewood."

Laura King Moon, assistant general manager of the State Water Contractors, a nonprofit association of 27 public agencies from across California that purchase water from the government under contract, said "these cuts are crippling on our people and businesses — especially in the Central Valley where farmers are being forced to fallow their land and workers are being laid off. Rather than piecemeal restrictions, we need to balance the needs of the environment and the needs of people with a collective plan for the Delta."

A delta smelt (hypomesus transpacificus)

The National Marine Fisheries Service, an agency within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, states the water pumping inside central California threatens several species, including Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, North American green sturgeon, and Southern Resident killer whales, which rely on Chinook salmon runs for food. In the Huron area, the delta smelt is specifically targeted.

In defense of the actions, Rod McInnis, the southwest regional director for NOAA's Fisheries Service stated, "What is at stake here is not just the survival of species but the health of entire ecosystems and the economies that depend on them. We are ready to work with our federal and state partners, farmers and residents to find solutions that benefit the economy, environment and Central Valley families."


Sources

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