Restore the San Joaquin River for Jobs, Farms, and Fish


San Joaquin Delta (from Wikipedia)

Mike Wade, Executive Director of the Farm Water Coalition, is an outstanding advocate for farmers. He always has a good command of facts and is ever-vigilant for threats to farmers’ water supplies.

Recently, however, he’s been too narrowly focused on the needs of a few farmers at the expense of farmers in general, especially those who farm the San Joaquin Delta. Wade’s recent criticism of a study that shows restoration of the San Joaquin River will produce thousands of jobs ignores the benefits of restoration to the Delta and to farmers who rely on Delta water.

Wade also manages to avoid the consequences of the status quo on the salmon industry, which faces the prospect of extinction without increased flows in our rivers. The salmon industry been battered by fishing bans and low yields for years.

The thrust of Wade’s argument is that the UC Merced study ignores lost farming jobs and thus paints too rosy a picture of the benefits of restoration.  While it’s technically true that the study did not account for lost farming jobs for those dependent on taking water out of the San Joaquin River before it reaches the Delta, it also didn’t consider the prospect of lost jobs if Delta farms fail because of increased salinity in their water. Such considerations were outside the scope of the study.

Nonetheless, all the evidence we have suggests that without restored flows to the Delta, farming there will be negatively impacted with a consequent loss of jobs. Furthermore, Wade seems to forget that significant amounts of Delta water get shipped south to even more farmers.

The restoration plan for the San Joaquin River is the result of over twenty years study, litigation, and congressional investigation. During that time, the many stakeholders in the fray had their say. Farmers and farming were well represented. Today’s restoration plan isn’t perfect, but it does reflect decades of input from a multitude of interests.

The plain truth is that we’ve reached a point in California history when it’s apparent that we’ve committed more water than we can deliver. Whatever solution we find is bound to result in economic pain somewhere. The best we can hope for is to avoid a catastrophe that would devastate the Delta, the fishing industry, and farmers in one fell swoop.

Until the San Joaquin River is restored for farmers, fish and recreation, it remains a public resource that has been exploited to the point of ruin, not only of the river itself but the Delta it feeds. Collapse or even further impairment of the Delta would represent a catastrophe of national proportions.

Mike Wade is correct when he argues that the UC Merced jobs study has a narrow focus, but so does his rebuttal. All the evidence we have says that unless we restore and protect the Delta, we’ll suffer not only major losses of jobs, but the elimination of fisheries and Delta farming altogether. That’s too big a price to pay to placate one narrow interest group, no matter how persuasive Mike Wade’s advocacy.


Eric Caine
Eric Caine
Eric Caine formerly taught in the Humanities Department at Merced College. He was an original Community Columnist at the Modesto Bee, and wrote for The Bee for over twelve years.
Comments should be no more than 350 words. Comments may be edited for correctness, clarity, and civility.


  1. Well Said !
    If Mike Wade actually advocated for all farmers rather than the select few who enable his paycheck then his contributions would amount to something more valuable than the partisan propaganda he promotes.
    His efforts only serve to pit one farmer against another.
    Of what value is that ?

  2. This author and others who echo his claims should more carefully read the op-ed to which they object. I carefully explained that the settlement agreement leading to the restoration program would provide a means to replace the water that 15,000 farmers in the Friant Division gave up. This is certainly not a “few farmers” as these critics claim. Without a workable plan to restore this water, it becomes another example of taking water used to grow food away from farmers.

    The California Farm Water Coalition has never advocated one group of farmers over another in relation to water supplies. Instead, we have staunchly provided facts to the conversation and those who disagree attempt to distort those facts to their own benefit. As pointed out in the op-ed, farmers raised concerns about how the planned restoration efforts would flood their lands and those concerns have become a reality with lost trees and crops. Again, these are the facts.

    Others attempt to create divisions within the farming community in their efforts to obtain their solution to problems confronting the Delta. These problems affect all of us in California and not just farmers. The Legislature issued a clear directive that solving the Delta problems must include ecosystem restoration and a reliable water supply. Those who refuse to accept this mandate use such claims as “corporate agri-business” and “billionaire farmers” in an attempt to discredit the efforts of family farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.

    The California Farm Water Coalition will continue its efforts to provide to the California public the facts needed to fully understand the water issues in front of all of us.

    Mike Wade
    California Farm Water Coalition

    • Gee Mike, I find myself scratching my head trying to recollect you ever voicing concern for those farmers in the Delta who will certainly suffer the loss of productive farmland both to construct a conveyance and further to mitigate for the damages that are a result of those diversions.
      There is one undeniable truth that you can dance around all you want and it won’t change the facts.
      Stewart Resnick is a “Billionaire”.
      Paramount Farms, the Kern Water Bank and his agricultural operations in Westlands Water District are NOT mom and pop “family farms”.
      The fact that you condone his continuing to hide behind the coat tails of actual family farmers is indicative of your true loyalties and no surprise to anyone.

  3. A billion dollars (at least) for a full restoration will yield very little lasting value for jobs, fish, or the Delta. There are far more useful ways to help the fish and Delta water quality, such as restoring habitat in the Trinity and Klamath, and improving the conveyance system in the Delta itself.

    • Of course I’m happy to hear from Mr. Wade and Mr. Kurtz. I might repeat, however, that the restoration plan is the result of decades study and input. And as long as we’re talking facts, we should note that many of the farms south and west of Modesto are already facing ruin because of poisoned groundwater and soil; more diversions will merely postpone the realities of overuse.

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