U.S. Water News Online
FRESNO, Calif. -- Farmers and environmentalists, usually at
odds over water, worked four years to figure out a way to revive part
of the San Joaquin River. Now, they've suddenly stopped talking, and
each side is blaming the other for the breakdown.
Both parties -- the farmers represented by the Friant Water Users
Authority, the environmentalists by the Natural Resources Defense
Council -- want to restore 267 miles of the San Joaquin drained by
the Friant Dam.
They came together in 1999, after tentatively settling the
council's 1988 lawsuit that accused the authority and the U.S. Bureau
of Reclamation of harming the river and its rich wildlife by not
releasing water from the dam.
With the help of a federal mediator, a compromise proposal was
finally ready to consider. The authority rejected it, however,
meaning the case goes back to court.
Fingers are pointing in each direction for the blame.
The council said the water users authority walked away from the
talks; the authority said the proposal's framework is excellent but
the environmental group was calling for an up-or-down vote, nothing
Both deny the charges.
``After swallowing the entire river for more than 50 years, the
Friant water districts just can't swallow the idea of changing
business as usual,'' said Jared Huffman, the council's attorney.
Countered the authority's attorney, Dan Dooley: ``They said you
accept it or reject it. They said no further discussions are
The lawyers said a court order prevented them from discussing the
proposal. In the past, farmers and environmentalists said they wanted
the restoration to keep water flowing both in the river and in Friant
irrigation canals, and to find money to pay for the project.
The groups plan to meet with a judge on May 5 to figure out how to
proceed with the council's lawsuit.
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