We have always supported a balanced approach to dividing up California's limited water supply -- one that that recognizes the needs of protecting the environment, providing drinking water to urban residents and giving farmers a fair share of this crucial resource.
But water allocations for agriculture on the San Joaquin Valley's West Side have been far from equitable. Federal law and court decisions have led to thousands of acres of farmland being taken out of production, caused economic devastation to some of our the valley's poorest communities, and severely damaged our ag-based economy.
We were pleased when Sen. Dianne Feinstein proposed an amendment to the federal jobs bill that would temporarily modify pumping restrictions and give farmers up to 40 percent of their normal allocation. Many farmers along the valley's West Side received only 10 percent of their federal allotments last year, and fear they will receive event less next year.
Feinstein's proposal was -- and is -- a reasonable solution to the water allocation disparity. It would not do away with the Endangered Species Act, which has caused some of the pumping restrictions, but would provide some critical temporary relief for hard-hit farmers and farming communities.
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It's not surprising, though, that the environmental lobby is working hard to get friendly members of Congress to reject Feinstein's proposal.
We urge her to stand strong against members of her own party who have long been antagonistic toward California agriculture.
Feinstein said last week that she might not pursue her amendment if the Interior Department takes action on its own. But backsliding on her bold plan is not what is needed at this point in time. The Interior Department should be increasing water deliveries, especially considering the recent heavy rainfall. But Interior can't be counted on to do the right thing. Thus, Feinstein needs to push ahead with a legislative solution to this crisis.
Leading the opposition is Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, who calls Feinstein's proposed amendment "destructive, both environmentally and politically."
That's nuts. What's truly destructive is trying to kill agriculture on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley by limited water deliveries.
In a meeting late last week with The Bee's editorial board, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, and a group of farmers and ag industry officials shared how the water reductions have put some of the region's most vulnerable residents out of work and pushed some farms toward foreclosure, bankruptcy or both.
And, Cardoza noted, the cutbacks have failed to help the environment. In fact, the fish population has continued to decline, even after severely limiting water pumping to valley farms through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
That fact alone would indicate that things other than pumping are responsible for the fish decline, from treated residential sewage being dumped into the delta to industrial pollution to predatory species entering the water system.
Nonetheless, the only factor the Miller group cites is the agricultural pumping, which seems narrow and short-sighted at best and symptomatic of ulterior motives at worst.
If the issue is protecting threatened species, you would think that all the causes of declining fish population would be examined. Cardoza and other backers of Feinstein's amendment say the temporary pumping modifications would allow time to do exactly that.
Feinstein must stand up for what is right and not give in to politicians and others who have a questionable agenda.
There must be fairness in water allocations. Otherwise, a large sector of the valley's economic engine could be brought to a standstill. And that would be devastating not just for agriculture but for the state as a whole.