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Water improvements vital to valley

Jul 4, 2007
Columns

California is reaching a water crisis, but we can take action so that our central California water does not dry up. Now is the time for leadership.

Our state has the opportunity to reinvigorate our efforts and reinvest in our future through needed water infrastructure advancements to hydrate our farms and communities with a stable flow of water.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rightfully said in Bakersfield last month, "We need that infrastructure." He and I both understand the urgency of the situation and the need to construct conveyance around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region, sometimes called a peripheral canal, to transport water to our farms and homes.

Our farmers, ranchers and families rely on a stable supply of water throughout the state. More than 25 million Californians and millions of acres of farmland receive their water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region. Unfortunately, this region is fraught with endangered species, unstable levees that could contaminate the Delta with salt water and rising sea levels.

Water is the lifeblood of our prosperity in the Central Valley and the Central Coast, supporting our agricultural production. What would water shortages mean?

Crops would be lost and there would be less food. Jobs in agriculture and supporting industries would be lost. Water reserves, like the water banks in Kern County, would be depleted. Rationing efforts would impact the quality of life for millions of Californians.

Lawsuits related to an endangered fish -- the Delta smelt -- were the root cause of the Delta water pumps being shut off recently, an action with potentially drastic consequences to our local farmers, families and businesses.

However, because there are other factors that may be the real cause of the smelt species decline, such as invasive species, simply shutting off the pumps or reducing pumping will not address this issue. Instead, inconclusive arguments to protect a few fish have been allowed to harm our quality of life.

My congressional colleagues joined me in expressing our opposition to the Delta pump shutdown, and we sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior and the governor to urge them to restore the pumps to their normal levels.

Although steps have been taken and the pumps are now operating at 20 percent capacity, we need to do more now that we have entered the sweltering summer months. News that freshwater pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has resumed does nothing to alleviate the longterm problems that exist to ensure that our state's water needs are met.

The demands of a growing number of water users throughout the state will require tough decisions to build additional reservoirs and a peripheral canal.

I applaud Gov. Schwarzenegger's leadership in recognizing the need to improve our state's conveyance capacity and I commend the 21 members of the California congressional delegation who joined me in calling for action to address our impending water crisis. But we must keep these upgrades a high priority until completed or else the future of our state's prosperity will drip away.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, represents the 22nd congressional district, which includes Kern and San Luis Obispo counties.