Keep it civil

Posted on | January 26, 2010 | 4 Comments

I’ll try. The easiest way to accomplish that when describing yesterday’s Los Angeles field hearing of the US House Sub-Committee on Water and Power is to thank the chair, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, who proved a model of efficiency and civility.

From there, it gets difficult.

Apart from Rep Napolitano, this panel came not to listen, but to talk, chiefly to humiliate the state and federal civil servants who manage our water supply while leaving themselves looking purposeful. In the case of the ever camera-ready panelist Rep Tom McClintock, his pressing question for administrators from the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources was: ” … with the increase in need [for water], why in the world are we still dumping 200 billion gallons of water into the Pacific Ocean for the enjoyment and amusement of the Delta smelt?”

None of the civil servants before him had the cheek to reply, “Because fish need water, Congressman.”

It is fashionable to insist that California’s water woes do not boil down to fish versus farmers. This is true. But here in California, a strategy to play the Republican inland against the more Democratic coast, and a relentless Republican assault on Obama’s Interior Department, do exist. So, it was part of a fixed game plan for the visiting panelist from House Appropriations, Riverside’s Rep Ken Calvert, to chime in on how unamused these smelt are — in spite of our rash generosity.

Their population keeps crashing anyway, Calvert said. “I don’t know how anyone can say the pumping restrictions are benefiting the Delta smelt.”

Central Valley Rep Jim Costa, a Democrat by party, a Republican by geography and a man better known in these pages for his donor list, wanted to know why his region did not get 20% more water, because such a thing could have been finagled under the biological opinions that led to smelt protections. No point for a diversion here to explain this. Rep Costa’s not a pillock, he’s just wily. He surely understands his own state’s allocation system, but why let the facts spoil some good grandstanding?

A real-time recounting of yesterday’s “hearing” would amount to cruel and unusual punishment for those street-wise enough to have avoided it. Suffice it to say, elsewhere in the game plan of the glorious panelists is what seemed to be a decision to simply ignore the recent voiding of the Quantification Settlement Agreement. Calvert worked hard on it, he said.

Imagine it then being judged illegal.

There were experts who had been called to testify before the panel, and they spoke. The water men pointed out the shrinking fresh water supply in the face of surging population. State Assemblywoman Anna Caballero talked about the water bills coming before California voters next November and the need for cooperation between the state and federal government. The community representative spoke of need for education, the fisherman of salmon, the west side Central Valley farmer of unemployment and the Orange County Business Bureau rep skillfully flattered a Republican congressman. To read their testimony, click here, then click on the highlighted names of the speakers.

While Napolitano’s hosting of the hearing was well nigh faultless, before it was over, congressmen there ostensibly to listen and learn, and a third of the audience, had got up and left.

It was time for the scientists to speak.

*Via Matt Weiser/Sacramento Bee on Twitter: The Department of Interior today announced additional deliveries of from 350,000-400,000 acre feet of water for the Central Valley, particularly west side farmers. Click here for the update.

This post has been updated.


4 Responses to “Keep it civil”

  1. Wes Rolley
    January 26th, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

    And some still wonder why the approval ratings for Congress are so low.

    There are solutions, but not many want to hear it because they require hard work and giving up something to get only part of what you want.

    See Martin Zehr’s post on BioRegionalism at California Greening.

  2. Grace
    January 26th, 2010 @ 1:57 pm

    That must have been so dispiriting for the scientists in the room. Been there. Done that.

  3. EmilyGreen
    January 26th, 2010 @ 3:29 pm

    Absolutely. The committee used the names of leading scientists to fill their room, then half the committee left before the experts spoke. It was a stunning insult to their panelists and audience.

  4. Doug O
    January 27th, 2010 @ 11:07 am

    Thanks for this overview of the hearing, Emily, especially for those of us who couldn’t attend. Did you see Matt Weiser’s story about the NRC meeting at UC Davis yesterday ( Much more civil, but no less controversial.

    Really enjoy your blog. Keep it up!

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