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Carolee Krieger of California Water Impact Network V. Hugh over the Delta Smelt ruling and devastation to the Central Valley farmers, Round 1

Saturday, August 1, 2009
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HH: Pleased to welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show now Carolee Krieger. She is with the California Water Impact Network. Carolee, welcome to the program, thanks for joining me today.

CK: Thank you so much for having me. I’m just honored to be here. Thank you.

HH: Now tell me a little bit about the California Water Impact Network before we talk Delta Smelt.

CK: All right, well the California Water Impact Network was started in 2001 as the result of some very major amendments that had been proposed to the state water project which we felt were very, very bad, because what they did is to solidify the what we call paper water in the system, water that exists in the contracts, but not in reality. And our plaintiff’s group had won that case, but then our attorneys went ahead and entered into settlement agreements, and basically, in our opinion, gave away most of what we had won. And so we were, I was very frustrated by that, and knew that there needed to be an organization to sue when that became ripe again, which it is now.

HH: So Carolee, in tems of what…what’s the objective of the organization?

CK: The objective of the organization is to make sure that the water in California is properly or, that it’s distributed according to the law. And what we’re trying to do is to make sure that there is enough water in California for the people and the environment. There isn’t enough water for the greed of a few who are trying to grow things on land that’s toxic.

HH: Now of course, in the story in the Toronto Globe and Mail…

CK: Yes.

HH: That’s what prompted this conversation. I covered it yesterday. The Delta Smelt is the focus of that. How did you get involved in the Smelt litigation?

CK: Well, it all is connected. The amount of water that is supposed to be delivered to the various agencies who have contracts has been way overpromised. And the state water resources control board, which is the state agency with the responsibility, the fiduciary duty to grant and revoke all water rights permits has said last summer in their strategic plan that they have granted water rights permits for eight and a half times as much water as exists in the Delta.

HH: Oh sure, but in specifically in terms of the Smelt, how did the California Water Impact Network come to be involved with that litigation?

CK: Well, because we’re interested in looking at the water supply of all of California, and how it’s interrelated, we are looking at the focal point of where all of the projects, the big projects really come together is the Delta. And the Smelt is the bellwether species in the Delta. It’s sort of like the canary in the coalmine. And if something goes wrong, you know, just like in the coalmines, if the canary dies, you know something’s going to be wrong for the other species that live there as well.

HH: How many Delta Smelt are there?

CK: Well, there used to be hundreds of thousands of them, and now they’ve been decimated to about one or two percent of the population that they used to be?

HH: So in terms of the number of them in the Delta right now, do you have a number?

CK: I really don’t have a number. One of the people I work with who represents the sports fishermen could spout those numbers off to you, but I’m sorry, I don’t know.

HH: Well, how do we know it’s endangered just because its numbers are down? I mean, there are a lot fewer of everything nowadays, but it doesn’t mean they’re endangered.

CK: Well, we know that the Smelt in the Delta, the Smelt is an indicator species of the Delta. And the reason that we know that things are getting bad is that when the Delta Smelt has problems, it means that there’s going to be more salt water intrusion. It means that there’s more different kinds of other species that are coming in to takeover the environment.

HH: But how will the judge’s order that led to the cutoff of the water to the Central Valley help save the Delta Smelt?

CK: Well, when Judge Wanger made his order, what he was saying is that the state water project and the Central Valley project were pumping too much water out of the Delta. That’s what’s affecting the life cycle of the smelt.

HH: How?

CK: There are not enough, there’s not enough flow into the Delta, freshwater flow into the Delta, because it’s being diverted before it gets there. And when the pumps for the Central Valley project and the state water project get turned on, they suck the water so strongly that they actually reverse the flow of the river, of the rivers. And what happens is that sucks the smelt and the juvenile salmon up into the pumps, and kills them.

HH: So is it the number of smelt that are getting chewed up by the turbines that’s the issue? Or is it the level of water?

CK: It’s both.

HH: Is that what the judge said?

CK: Yup. If the pumps were not turned on, there would be more water flowing down. You see, when you turn on the pumps, that sucks up the water and changes the flow of the river, reverses the flow of the river.

HH: And so how many smelt are getting chewed up in the turbines?

CK: Well, I don’t know the exact numbers, but I can tell you what the judge’s decision, order on the salmon said.

HH: Well, I’m just, the reason the water’s been cut off is just the smelt. It’s not the salmon.

CK: No, no, no, it’s the salmon as well.

HH: No, I read the biological opinion, I read the court order. It’s just the smelt.

CK: All right, well, you know, I don’t want to argue with you, but I can tell you that when Judge Wanger’s decision on the salmon came down…

HH: But really, really…

CK: That’s going to cut it back even more.

HH: Carolee, I want to stay focused on the smelt, though…

CK: Okay.

HH: …because that’s what the article in the Globe and Mail was, so I went back and read all that stuff. And I couldn’t find a number. There’s no number of the number of smelt being killed, or the number that are in the Delta. But I did find a New York Times article that says that Lester Snow now says they’ve found a new population of smelt that proves that it’s thriving in a tidal marsh around Liberty Island in the northern Delta, calling into question whether or not the Delta Smelt’s endangered at all.

CK: No, no, that’s just not accurate. The, that quote is a very small part of the whole Delta.

HH: Yeah, but it’s, but the Delta Smelt is the endangered species, not the Delta, just the Delta Smelt. So…

CK: Well, the Delta Smelt is just the indicator species.

HH: But that’s not how the Endangered Species Act works. I mean, if it’s not endangered, you wouldn’t get the water cut off, so we have to focus on the smelt. And I’m surprised you don’t know how many there are, or how many are being chewed up in the turbines.

CK: I don’t. I’m sorry, I don’t. I just know that it’s very significant, and that the Delta Smelt’s lifecycle, which is only a year, if there are not enough reproducing adults at the end of that, they stand very close to going extinct.

HH: But if you don’t know how many there are, and I’m not being quarrelsome, I’m just curious. If you don’t know how many there are, how do you know there aren’t enough to reproduce?

CK: Well, all of the material that I’ve read indicates that they are on the brink of going extinct. And you know, the Endangered Species Act would not have kicked in, and Judge Wanger would not have made the ruling that he did if he didn’t believe from the testimony of the Department of Fish and Game, and all of the other agencies that testified in this case, and I mean, it’s hotly contested, so if Oliver Wanger, Judge Oliver Wanger said that they’re endangered and agreed with that, you know, he’s the ultimate authority here.

HH: Well, you know, judges are often wrong, and especially in endangered species cases when you find the best available evidence, and you find this new population of smelt, I’m just curious why in all this stuff I read for the last two days, I can’t find a number of how many there are, and why they think they’re going extinct? All I could find, Carolee, was in the biological opinion of December, 2008, it cites a study and a personal conversation with a U.C. Davis professor that’s not even published somewhere that comes up with something called the Big Momma Thesis? Have you heard of that?

CK: I don’t know anything about that, but I will tell you, I will find out what that number is and get back to you.

HH: Have you read the biological opinion?

CK: I have. I’ve read the biological opinion on the smelt, and I’ve read the biological opinion on the salmon.

HH: Well, that’s what’s so funny. The salmon is not what I’m, I’ll go have to read that. I’m not ready to talk about that. But the smelt, there’s no number in it. Don’t you find that odd?

CK: Well, let me tell you, give you a number. And I know you don’t want to hear this about the salmon…

HH: Honestly, I don’t, Carolee, because that confuses for my audience. I read the whole Globe and Mail thing yesterday, so the salmon is not why the water’s been shut off in the Central Valley. It’s been shut off because of the smelt biological opinion. So let’s stay focused on the smelt, though. So you, if you send me those numbers, I’ll read them.

CK: I will.

HH: But they’re not in the biological opinion, and that’s what I found so odd about this. Let’s go to the bigger issues that you were talking about in the newspaper article.

CK: Yeah, because that’s why we’re in this fight. You know, it is about the bigger issues, and the smelt is, as I say, just the indicator species.

HH: Well, yeah, but you can’t abuse the law. I’m talking about the cutoff of the water.

CK: Right, I don’t want to, and in fact, what we’re very concerned with is that the law has been abused, and it’s not just the Endangered Species Act, but it’s the Porter Cologne Clean Water Act.

HH: Yeah, but that’s not what is causing the cutoff to the Central Valley. It’s the smelt, and it’s the judge’s order. So let’s just stay focused on that.

CK: All right.

HH: In the article, you said that farmers may be facing hardships, but so are fishermen and the fish.

CK: That’s correct.

HH: Okay, what kind of hardships are the fishermen facing due to the smelts’ problem?

CK: Well, the hardship that the fishermen are facing is because of the lack of flow, okay, and as I say, it’s complex, but it’s all related, and you have to get past your just one, you know, just the smelt, because that’s just one piece of it. But because of the lack of flow, the salmon, which is a major source of food, and a major crop for the fishermen, the salmon season has been closed for the second season in a row because there are not enough fish.

HH: And so will reducing the flow to the Central Valley save or even increase the number of fishermen jobs out there?

CK: Absolutely.

HH: By how many?

CK: It will bring them back to what they were before.

HH: How many are there?

CK: You know, I don’t know the exact number.

HH: Well, 40,000 jobs at least have been lost in the Central Valley due to the loss of the water. Do you think there are 40,000 fishermen who lost their jobs up in the Delta?

CK: I think there are more than that.

HH: There have been more than 40,000 fishermen that lost their jobs?

CK: Yes. You know, there’s about to be a million fishing boat, you know, it’s like the million man march? Well, this is going to be a million fishing boat, it’s not a march, but I mean.

HH: It’s a float. But I mean, 40,000 fishermen have lost their jobs?

CK: Oh, I think there are more than that, and when you add in the sports fishermen, and all of the tackle shops, and all of the boating gear, and all of the recreational aspects of it…

HH: There is nothing for them to do because of the Delta Smelt? They’re all out of work? I mean, I don’t fish. I’m going fishing for the first time in two weeks in Montana, and it’s a danger to everyone involved. But I just can’t imagine that I haven’t seen a story about 40,000 fishermen out of work in the Delta.

CK: You’re about to hear a whole lot more about what’s happened to the fishermen in the Delta. And it’s not just the Delta, it’s the whole West Coast.

HH: Okay, how do you tell a farmer who’s about to lose his farm, I’m sure you read the same article, he and his family and all of his employees are being laid off, they’re going to lose their farm, that they are less valuable than this endangered fish?

CK: They, it’s not that they’re less valuable, but you have to understand something. The farmers who are getting the water that is being cut off have the most junior water rights in the system in California, you know, among the most junior water rights. And what’s happening is they are, these farmers are asking that the Delta farmers, you know, there’s a whole lot of farmers who live in the Delta whose water has been contaminated and cut back. And the solidity levels have risen considerably because of overpumping.

HH: Has the Farm Bureau brought that up? Are the Farm Bureau people out there demanding this end?

CK: The Farm Bureau people, I don’t really know. But I can tell you I’ve talked to farmers in the Delta. I’ve also talked to farmers with senior water rights in the Sacramento Valley, which is upstream from the farmers in Fresno and on the west side of the San Joaquin River. And it’s their water that the junior water rights holders on the west side of the San Joaquin are trying to take away. So it’s not just the fishermen, it’s other farmers, too. And what is happening…

HH: If you send me that, I’ll be happy to read that on air.

CK: I will, I will.

HH: I just haven’t seen any farmers complaining about this. I’ve seen a lot of farmers…in fact, I got a call yesterday from a San Diego farmer who said he’s also been impacted by this. But let’s go back. You keep bringing up the salmon, so I do want to give you a second about this.

CK: Yes.

HH: The salmon are ocean-dependent fish.

CK: No.

HH: Are they in any way, do they eat smelt?

CK: Oh, no, no, no. This is why I think you’re having a problem. The salmon cannot reproduce unless they go up the rivers.

HH: Yeah, I’ve seen the National Geographic specials. I’ve got that down.

CK: They’re anadromous fish…

HH: Right.

CK: …which means that they have to reproduce in freshwater, and then they live out their lifecycle in the ocean. And the problem is, you remember those pumps I was telling you about? Well, this I can tell you as a hard, cold number. Between 44 and 61% of the juvenile salmon are getting ground up in those pumps.

HH: Okay, and so that’s a big number. The question is does that endanger the smelt? Because the smelt are the ones that caused the water cutoff, not the salmon. So if you know that there’s 41 to 60% of the baby salmon are getting ground up…

CK: Right.

HH: How come we don’t know how many of the Delta Smelt are getting ground up?

CK: Well, I don’t happen to know, but I know there are people who do know. And I also could, you know, as soon as I find out those numbers, I will get them back to you, because they’re really shocking numbers about how much there was, and you know, before the projects, and what there is now.

HH: But I mean, 40,000 jobs, Carolee. 40,000 jobs.

CK: Well, I can tell you something else. There’s information that’s just coming out that I’m not totally familiar with, but what this information in the last few months, and it’s the California government, I believe, but apparently all those jobs you’re talking about? The agricultural jobs in Kern County and Tulare County and I think Fresno and there’s one more, those are up, not down.

HH: What?

CK: It’s because…yes, yes.

HH: Carolee…

CK: And I will get you that information.

HH: What, do you think the Toronto Globe person was making it up? I mean, they’re supposed to lose 80,000 before it’s over, and $2 billion dollars. They’ve got unemployment of 40% in Mendota.

CK: I’m going to give you some figures. I’ll get those for you, too, because this is what is so shocking to us, and we’re about to file another lawsuit, and this information is going to go into that lawsuit, because the, what is shows, and this is California statistics, California government statistics, what it shows is that the unemployment in the ag sector is better, it’s improved. It’s lower than it was the year before.

HH: Carolee, count me skeptical. But we’ll put it out there, and people can listen to the show and they can send me that in. Now give me a little bit of background on you.

CK: I was skeptical, too.

HH: Are you an economist or a scientist?

CK: I am neither an economist nor a scientist, but the information that our team gathers comes from, you know, I mean, we use it in our cases to buttress the record that is necessary for a judge to take a look at the facts and make a decision.

HH: Are you a lawyer?

CK: I am not a lawyer, no.

HH: How’d you get into this then?

CK: Because I’m passionate about the environment, and what happens in California, and I think it’s really wrong to privatize and deregulate our water.

HH: Okay, but stay with me on biography. I’m always fascinated by activists who commit so passionately.

CK: All right.

HH: When did you get into this?

CK: I got into this in the mid-80s. I live in Santa Barbara. I’m an artist. I’m a potter. I do ceramics. I have three kids, and when my kids were all grown, I decided I wanted to do something to give back to my community. And because I’m an avid gardener as well, I knew that water was a really critical issue for California. I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, and I saw what happened when there was no planning. Waikiki Beach turned, you know, the skyline there is like New York City. It was just, it’s just really changed because of, in my opinion, poor planning or no planning.

HH: Carolee, what happened, but what about these 40,000 unemployed, what about the guy who’s losing his farm that was in the Toronto Globe and Mail? His family’s had it for two generations, his kids, he’s got little girls, he can’t provide for them.

CK: What about the fishermen that can’t feed their families?

HH: Again, I just think…

CK: What about the farmers in the Delta who can’t feed their families?

HH: Again, I have to be shown those numbers. They’re not in the article, and I looked for them.

CK: Yes.

HH: But what do you say to this guy in the Delta? You know, hey, I’ve got my pottery business, I’m selling my flatware and my vases, and I’m okay, so I can come and litigate to drive you into the ground?

CK: Well, what I’m trying to do is not to drive anybody into the ground. My firm belief is that there is enough water in California for everyone, but not for greed.

HH: But Carolee, are you living in a little world that you’ve created for yourself where you’re walling yourself off from the human misery you are a part of inflicting on these people? I mean, are you aware of it? If you’re aware of it…

CK: I do not believe that I’m inflicting misery on anybody. I mean…

HH: But I mean…

CK: I honestly think that these people are inflicting it on themselves, because they have junior water rights, and they know that their water is the first to be dropped in a drought.

HH: Well you know, let’s think about the farm workers who are up here making, and I hope they’re legal, and I assume many of them are, and some of them aren’t, but they’re making, what, $7.50 bucks an hour, and they need that to eat, and they need that for basic medical, and they haven’t got it, and they’ve got tent cities…

CK: And the fishermen are in the same boat, Hugh. They’re in exactly the same boat, and so are the farmers in the south and central Delta. They are all hurting.

HH: But the Delta Smelt is not…

CK: Do you think it’s fair to pit farmers against farmers, or fishermen against farmers?

HH: I don’t think…Carolee, I just don’t think you’re right about that, but I’m open to being persuaded.

CK: Oh, I know I’m right.

HH: Well, if you don’t have the facts or a source for me, I have to go…

CK: I do, I do have facts, and I will get them to you.

HH: Okay, and I’m looking forward to that. But I want to go back to this, the idea that maybe you’ve compartmentalized yourself away from the misery that is real. Have you gone to the Central Valley? Have you talked to these people in Fresno?

CK: Oh, yes I have.

HH: When?

CK: The most recent was maybe a month ago?

HH: And who did you meet with?

CK: Oh, I didn’t meet with the farmers or the farm workers. I was just up there on business.

HH: So have you ever met with any of the farmers or the farm workers whose lives are being ruined by the Delta Smelt ruling?

CK: I’ve spoken to some of them.

HH: When?

CK: Let’s see, it was a few months ago.

HH: Okay, and in terms of…and what did they tell you? Hooray for the pottery person from Santa Barbara who is destroying our lives? Or are they angry with you?

CK: Actually, what…I wasn’t speaking to the, you know, the activists on the other side of what we’re doing. I was speaking to just regular farmers in…and actually, they were in the Sacramento Valley. And they were actually very supportive of the work that we’re doing, because their water is…

HH: Well, that I can understand.

CK: …because of senior water rights.

HH: I mean, if you’re helping some guys with a lot of water keep the water that they want to bank, and you’re not talking to the Central Valley people…

CK: It’s not that they want to bank it. It’s just water that they’ve been using for many generations.

HH: So let’s go back to the idea, however, it doesn’t sound to me like you’ve actually dealt with any of the people in a real human way whose lives have been destroyed, and their economic livelihood ruined by your lawsuits. I find that interesting.

CK: Well, that’s your prerogative.

HH: But I mean, do you have any curiosity about what’s happened?

CK: Well, I just know that the law is not being upheld. And when you don’t uphold the law, you know, when the agencies that are supposed to be following the law, and in this case, it’s more than just the Endangered Species Act, it’s the Clean Water Act…

HH: No, no, it’s just the ESA.

CK: No, no, no. Hugh, I’m sorry…

HH: I’ve got the biological opinion in front of me.

CK: I’m sorry, you’re compartmentalizing it too much. This is a much broader thing that just one…

HH: Now Carolee, that’s simply not true. The judge made his order based upon the Endangered Species Act prohibition of incidental take brought about by the dam grinding up of the salmon, and the reverse flow. I’ve read it.

CK: Yes, but the problem is much broader than is indicated by that.

HH: Well yeah, but the reason they cut off the water, there might be ways to fix it that are much broader. It’s because you and your colleagues in the environmental movement brought his lawsuit…

CK: Yeah, C-WIN did not bring that lawsuit. I wish we had.

HH: Okay, well…

CK: But we did not.

HH: So how did you end up being quoted in the Toronto Globe and Mail?

CK: Because our organization is doing quite a bit before the state water resources control board, which is the agency that has the fiduciary responsibility to grant and revoke all water rights and permits in California.

HH: And Lester Snow, the director of the Department of Water Resources…

CK: I’m sorry, but the state water resources control board trumps Lester Snow.

HH: Yeah, but Lester has some…

CK: And it trumps the federal Central Valley project as well.

HH: But he’s not, I’m not saying he’s got the ultimate authority.

CK: He does not.

HH: I’m not saying that. But when he comes up and he says hey, we found a new population of Delta Smelt, and fish isn’t as bad off…

CK: It’s a distraction, because it’s not solving the problem at all.

HH: Yeah, but if it’s not endangered, this is all built on a house of cards.

CK: No, it is endangered.

HH: But he’s saying, I mean…

CK: Very much so.

HH: He’s a scientist. He runs the agency. Why wouldn’t we listen to him?

CK: He’s not a scientist, and he may run the agency, but just as I am the executive director of a much smaller organization, certainly, than the Department of Water Resources, you know, I have people that I rely on for my facts, and so does he. The problem with what’s happened with both the Department of Water Resources and other agencies is that special interests get to them, if you know what I mean.

HH: I don’t.

CK: And in this case…

HH: What do you mean by that?

CK: Well, what I mean is this. The most junior water rights holders in the state happen to be some very large landowners in the Central Valley. And that’s what’s driving all of this.

HH: Now wait, wait.

CK: They want more water than they are entitled to.

HH: Carolee, everybody needs that food. The 40,000 migrant workers aren’t big, rich ranchers.

CK: Hey, the food, they’re growing…they’re growing, I’ve got to give you some statistics, okay? 80% of the developed surface water in California is used by agriculture.

HH: Now Carolee, time out. Time out.

CK: Of that, 40% is used to grow cotton, alfalfa, irrigated pasture.

HH: Why does this matter when you don’t know…

CK: It’s not food.

HH: Carolee, how much, why does that matter when you don’t know how many smelt are being ground up? Why don’t have the key facts, but you have these broader facts?

CK: Oh, I have, because that’s what our group is about. It’s about the broad spectrum of how integrated the California water supply is.

HH: Okay, last question for you.

CK: It’ not just about, it’s not just about the smelt, Hugh. It’s about the whole system.

HH: Last question for you, if it’s proven to you…

CK: Yeah.

HH: …that there aren’t 40,000 people unemployed as a result of the smelt declining in the Delta…

CK: Hugh, it’s not just the smelt decline. It’s the salmon decline.

HH: But the reason, Carolee, I don’t know if…do you know the ESA at all? I mean, it’s…

CK: I know it enough to know that if you’re just going to look at the Delta Smelt biop, and not the salmon biop which has also come out with Wanger also overturned…

HH: But that’s not why the water got shut off, Carolee.

CK: It is.

HH: The water got shut off because of the Delta Smelt.

CK: And the water is going to be constricted even more because of the salmon.

HH: Well, that hasn’t happened yet, has it?

CK: Wanger has said that it’s going to.

HH: But it hasn’t happened yet. The devastation in the Central Valley is because of the Delta Smelt. The Delta Smelt, there’s new data showing that it’s not nearly as threatened as people thought.

CK: That’s not true.

HH: And I do not believe you can get any evidence that there are 40,000 fishermen out of work because of the Delta Smelt. I just can’t believe that.

CK: I think that there are a lot more than that.

HH: All right, I’ll tell you what. Let’s get our facts.

CK: Okay.

HH: You send me your stuff, we’ll go a second round in a week. How’s that?

CK: That sounds fabulous. I would love it.

HH: I look forward to it, Carolee. I appreciate your taking the time. It’s an important issue, and we’ll continue the conversation next week.

CK: It’s a really important issue, but I want to leave you with one thought. It’s not just about one species, Hugh. It’s about the whole system.

HH: And I want to leave you with one thought.

CK: There is enough water in California.

HH: The Endangered Species Act, my one thought is that the Endangered Species Act is a law. That law operates species by species.

CK: Yes.

HH: And if the Delta Smelt isn’t endangered, the devastation in the Central Valley is all illegal.

CK: Oh, but that’s wrong. The Delta Smelt is endangered.

HH: But I’m saying if that data is wrong, and Lester Snow is correct and other people are correct, and the hypotheticals upon which this listing are based are hokum, then it’s all just a myth designed to get power into the hands of people who don’t like growth.

CK: Oh, my gosh. Now that’s the first time I’ve heard that before.

HH: All right, we’ll talk about it again next week, Carolee.

CK: Okay. I would love to.

HH: Thank you.

CK: Thanks, you, too.

HH: Bye, bye.

End of interview.

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