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Water war boils down to farmers vs. fishermen

George Skelton, Capitol Journal, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Don’t blame the little fish. And don’t call it the Central Valley.

Both comments, repeated incessantly, were irritants during President Obama’s visit to parched California farm country last week.

The president was there—in the San Joaquin Valley—to cuddle with water hogs.

The hogs are large growers who use lots of water, have just about run out and are angry because they’re being denied other people’s. And they keep complaining that the government is favoring a little "bait fish" over farmers.

Yes, regulators have been holding back some delta water in recent years to save the smelt, a finger-sized fish that is used not as bait but as a canary.

That is, the smelt is viewed by biologists as a canary in a coal mine, an indicator of ill health for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a source of drinking water for 24 million people and irrigation for 3 million acres.

So goes the smelt, so goes the delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of America, north or south. The smelt’s decline signals, among other things, increased pollution, salinity and devastation caused by giant fish-chomping pumps.

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