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.