January 5, 2011

When Government Is Empowered to Balance Fish and Farmers

Justin Katz

The most stark example yet in the United States — thus far, still shy of mass starvation under Communist regimes — of the danger of letting the legislative brush slop regulations on too many areas of human activities has to be the destruction of California's Central Valley:

Why has California become the epicenter of unemployment? While Michigan and Florida have a mix of problems, including (in Michigan's case) a history of bad management decisions on labor contracts, California's Central Valley woes are entirely a government creation. As I wrote yesterday, the decision by a federal judge to cut off water supplies to an area that literally fed the world turned the Central Valley from an agricultural export powerhouse to a center of starvation within two years. Congress has refused to act to reverse this decision, and as a result, almost a quarter of the families in the area now need government assistance to feed themselves while living on some of the most productive land in the world.

The background is that the 1973 Endangered Species Act has worked its way to protection of the delta smelt, a species of inedible bait fish that is argued to be affected by the pumps that supply the Western portion of the valley with water, so the water has been cut off, leaving irrigation at 25% of its previous flow.

As we'll surely be hearing throughout the year, the Environmental Protection Agency is currently on course to enact similarly detrimental regulations by bureaucratic fiat, treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant covered under the Clean Air Act of 1970.

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Yes, the nerve of those folks telling farmers that arid areas requiring massive irrigation (and externalized costs and not just to the smelt) is a bad idea. You coprporate apologist, pseudo-anarchists crack me up.

Posted by: Russ at January 5, 2011 10:55 AM

Posted by Russ
"Yes, the nerve of those folks telling farmers that arid areas requiring massive irrigation (and externalized costs and not just to the smelt) is a bad idea. You coprporate apologist, pseudo-anarchists crack me up."

Russ, it is good to know that the Luddites are still with us. I suspect you have little experience with farming. If man is able to make good farm land out of arid areas, who is the government to tell him he shall not.

Reminds me of the pond a friend has in his front yard. His grandfather built it, thinking it would be attractive. Stoppages downstream have reduced the flow so that it is now mosquito heaven. He is not allowed to fill it back in because it was made before 1978 and is now "nature".

One of Gingrich's better suggestions was that Congress take one, or two, days a month and dedicate them to correcting senseless decisons made by the agencies they have created. They now try to treat those agencies as "co-equal branches of government", over which they possess no right of control.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at January 5, 2011 12:25 PM

I'd like to see Russ stand in the middle of Fresno and make that comment.

Posted by: BobN at January 5, 2011 12:50 PM

The fact that Congress let this judge's insane ruling stand is very scary. People get priority for the water over fish. Or should have, anyway.

By the way, why wasn't this considered a "taking" by government, with the corresponding finacial damages to be paid to the property owners whose properties were turned into a wasteland? (They should be paid out of the personal pockets of the judge and Congress but that's a separate matter.)

Posted by: Monique at January 5, 2011 11:32 PM

Monique writes:
"why wasn't this considered a "taking" by government,"

I have little experience with water, but I have investigated "takings" when they declared several acres of my property to be wetlands (under the current definitiions, any hillside is a wetland. They look for the flow of water below the surface).

There is a fairly long line of federal cases that determine it is not a taking if the owner is not deprived of all use. So long as the owner can make any use of the land, the taking is not complete and is not compensible.

I have challanged boards to name a use I could still make of the land. Other than to suggest that I donate the land to the city, to could offer little in the way of a suggested use.

There is a famous Massachusetts case where 28 out of 30 acres, which had been laid out as 20 odd house lots, were declared "wetlands". The owner challanged it as a taking since 20 odd lots were now "unbuildable". The court found that the owner still had a "use" in that he could develop two house lots of 15 acres each.

More to the point, if the farmers are still able to invite their friends over for a barbecue on the land, it is probably not a taking. The Environmental people are not fools and their regulations are drawn rather skilfully with a lot of slack for the regulators. It is sometimes amusing to read the regulations. There are regular references to our "precious wetlands", and like phrases. While the language is very unlegalistic, it does show a state of mind.

It is well to remember that a great majority of voters live along the two coasts, in urban, or suburban locations. These people are completely unacquainted with "nature". This is so even though the battle with nature to maintain a 1 acre lawn should teach them something of nature's resiliency. I recall a PBS ad where the speaker said "All I know about nature, I learned from PBS".

Similar to Global Warming, these people are convinced that the eco-system is being destroyed by the despoilers. At the risk of being too dramatic, these people see every action to preserve an endangered species as a victory over the despoilers. They support it. They "feel good", they have done their part for the "planet". It is a "Holy War" against the "unbelievers".

Back during the "Rain Forest" scare of the 90's, people would express concern for "The Rain Forest". I would ask them "which Rain Forest?". They thought only Brazil had a rain forest and that it was being destroyed by MacDonalds (if you don't recall that, I am not making it up). They were completely unaware that 40% of the Earth's land mass was rain forest. PBS hadn't told them that.

Sorry to run on, you have hit a sore point which has cost me plenty.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at January 6, 2011 1:02 AM

Balancing the interests of the living earth and water and economic growth has been overwhelmingly skewed towards economic growth for decades. While it may seem silly to place a small fish against the farmers in California, I would like to bring it home. Consider what the consequences were when a large flood plain near the Pawtuxet River was filled and developed. This is where the Warwick Mall is situated. I'm sure the concerns for developing a wetland, the risks to the nearby river and it's wildlife were quickly dismissed in favor of the increased economic growth and the taxes that would be generated. Is this not progress? That was in 1972.
Ten years later and after repeated flooding after large rainfalls of the downriver neighborhood in Warwick called Belmont Park the Army Corp of Engineers approved the nearly 4 million dollar plan of demolishing 59 houses, their occupants eventually resettled.

In addition to the plight of the people who lived at Belmont Park the Mall development had effects on the environment even further away than Belmont Park. As concerns for the health of Narragansett Bay increased in the decades of 197o's and 80's there started more scientific research into what was causing pollution and where were the largest sources. Obviously the Combined Sewerage Overflow (CSO) from the waterfront treatment plants were easy to identify, but it came as a surprise at the size of the source from the outflow of the Pawtuxet tracing it's way back to the unimpeded runoff from the huge parking areas surrounding the Malls. Think back to what just occurred last spring.
So while it may indeed be easy to scoff at the government's actions on behalf of a hapless fish facing extinction remember that there are consequences not always so apparent that may end up effecting many lives and costing many more dollars.

Posted by: Phil at January 6, 2011 7:36 AM

"Stoppages downstream have reduced the flow so that it is now mosquito heaven."

Ironically, the same kind of externalized costs that are killing the smelt. Someone should do something about that!

As to the Luddite stuff, you guys so crack me up! (I'm a technologist by trade)

Posted by: Russ at January 6, 2011 10:42 AM

Hear, hear, Phil.

Posted by: Russ at January 6, 2011 10:44 AM

Actually, just as with the cult of global warming, there is no persuasive evidence that the delta smelt is being killed off by Central Valley irrigation. The court order was based on the typical, dubious claims of "increased risk".

As to the qualifications of a "technologist" to have authoritative opinions on subjects outside of his narrow specialty, he has none.

The development of unsuitable real estate in Rhode Island has nothing to do with Leftist abuse of the judicial power in California in a completely different situation. Phil's gum-flapping is irrelevant, as usual. But Russ can't discern that. Because they're both dumb libtards, you see.

Posted by: BobN at January 6, 2011 12:35 PM

Yawn, more personal attacks... what a shock.

Posted by: Russ at January 6, 2011 4:02 PM

"The background is that the 1973 Endangered Species Act has worked its way to protection of the delta smelt, a species of inedible bait fish that is argued to be affected by the pumps that supply the Western portion of the valley with water, so the water has been cut off, leaving irrigation at 25% of its previous flow."

Justin describes the delta smelt as an inedible bait fish as though it has no value. I don't know the case of the delta smelt and for all I know it may be indeed hard to determine it's value. (As part of the Creation that some here may subscribe to I suspect it may have some purpose)
Overfishing in Narragansett Bay of the menhaden that is used as bait for commercial fishing has had the consequence of keeping the number of commercially viable striped bass which feeds on menhaden as well as other bait down in recent years. The fishermen who harvest the menhaden with the use of spotter planes are certainly entitled to their catch, but the effect on recreational fishing which has a measurable economic impact in the region cannot be discounted when trying to balance the interests of some of the parties. Before jumping into the fray in California I think I would want more than a couple of short articles and a whole raft of assumptions.

Posted by: Phil at January 6, 2011 5:24 PM

Just another evasive, irrelevant comment from Russ as a fig leaf for his inability to engage on the actual issue under discussion.

The Lefties here must enjoy talking to themselves, because no one else takes them seriously.

Posted by: BobN at January 6, 2011 6:36 PM

I do not know. BOBN. I think you are missing quite a bit. Try answering some of the local questions about the issues that Phil brings up. Maybe think of Cain and Abel. Maybe think of this - Belmont Park was not some bottom land that can just be cast off. Belmont Park was as vibrant when the Pawtuxet was dammed and used as an energy source for the West Warwick mills as were the mills. You, Bobn, are only interested in the mills. Not the people who worked there, or the wealthier people that settled in the area- including the Belmont Park community. You, sad to say, are typical of a new venal American- all that matters is where the last buck comes from. No values, no principles. Just a lot of hot air about the constitution and patriotism. Rendered meaningless when stacked up against your other comments.

Posted by: David S at January 6, 2011 8:45 PM

This whole environmental/global warming/cause& effect argument has become so politicized that it has become almost impossible to discern who is contributing to the debate without an underlying agenda.
I don't want the landscape,waters,or air ruined,but on the other hand I am distrustful of things like the Kyoto Accords and cap & trade legislation which may only serve to make another group of folks into multibillionaires at the expense of those least able to afford it.
It's like if someone came forward and admitted the real truth about JFK's assassination,no one would believe them.
We may never know the truth about environmental issues because which science is the right science?
When research is massaged to obatin a desired result,no one learns a damn thing.

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 6, 2011 9:34 PM

Phil writes:
"As concerns for the health of Narragansett Bay"

I am distrustful of the evenhandedness of anyone who ascribes "health" to inanaimate objects. Water does not have "health", rocks do not have "health".

Now, organisms living in water and around rocks may have health, that is an entirely different matter. To ascribe "health" to a bay suugests that a bay is an organism. It is not, althoughit may be home to organisms.

I am sorry for what may have happened to the residents of Belmont Park. But isn't that the way of the world? They were not without recourse. It is as old as English common law that people injured by the diversion of water have a compensable injury. That being the case, I wonder why we need new laws? (actually regulations which are distinquishable from laws. The chief distinction is that you must "exhaust administrative remedies" before going to court. That can be very costly and time consuming)

Posted by: Warrington Faust at January 6, 2011 10:54 PM


My point was less about the local example and more about the consequences that may occur but not known before actions taken either by government or businesses, or both. Don't get hung up on semantics when it comes to a word like health. I think I was clear that I was writing about pollution.

Posted by: Phil at January 7, 2011 7:28 AM

Referring to a body of water as "sick" or "healthy"isn't really that silly.
Any ntural body of water is a biological zone unto itself and is affected by both internally and externally generated factors such as pollution,temperature,material(biological)entering by tides,tributaries,or introduction(i.e.zebra mussels).Also microorganisms from the life forms already there.
So,in effect the body of water is an ecological community.
It's "health" is a concept that I can understand.When all the life forms within are physically connected by the water,it's really like one extended life form because all manner of things are transmitted through the medium.
There's no political undercurrent to what I'm saying here.
Air is not the same kind of conductor as water.
I can think of "dead" bodies of water like Newtown Creek in NYC.Once a site for thriving aquatic life,it has become a lifeless industrial sewage backwater.
Who knows?Maybe I'm all wet on this.

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 7, 2011 9:02 PM

I was thinking of an ecosystem,but the word just didn't come to me.Today it did,so-senior moment?
I think an ecosystem can be "healthy"or "sick".
Pollution isonly one thing that can affect it.
Species dominance isn't pollution,but it can raise hell.

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 8, 2011 10:45 PM
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