Central California Congressman George Radanovich was miffed at being criticized for chastising the federal government for protecting the Delta smelt when he also authored controversial legislation to restore salmon to the San Joaquin River.

Radanovich, an eight-term Republican from Mariposa, Calif., said equating the two issues is like comparing crappie to bass.

Radanovich was part of a parade of politicos at a rally on the banks of the San Luis Reservoir in April, where thousands ended a four-day Walk for Water to protest the government throttling back the Delta pumps to save a minnow (Delta smelt) at the cost of jobs.

The farm workers and farmers left the rally disappointed. All they heard was political rhetoric. They expected action, but left frustrated. It boiled over with farmers and this editor pointing out the inconsistency in Radanovich’s rally rant that the government was more interested in protecting fish than jobs for people, in contradiction of his support for salmon restoration on the river.

“Forget salmon ... I don’t give a rip about salmon,” Congressman Radanovich told me on the phone when he called to set the record straight.

The grape grower/winery owner says he initially authored the river restoration bill with Sen. Diane Feinstein because the 22 water districts in the Friant Water Users Authority had settled an 18-year legal battle with radical environmentalists to restore salmon in the river.

It was either settle or let a judge decide how much water went to salmon. The judge told the farmers they did not want him to decide because they would likely get little or nothing if he did.

“The judge had his hands on the faucet and everyone agreed that was not a reasonable alternative,” says Radanovich. When the water districts and environmentalists settled, Radanovich drafted legislation to fund river restoration.

“The San Joaquin restoration is not an Endangered Species Act (ESA) situation like the Delta smelt. It is a state issue dating back to the law passed in 1930 creating Friant Dam and Millerton Lake,” said Radanovich. “The issue was not going beyond state court. There would be no appeal to the supreme court of the judge’s ruling if he was left to make the final decision.”

Basically, Radanovich said farmers cut the best deal they could.

In the wake of the frustration from the water march and rally, Radanovich has ratcheted up his political muscle to resolve the smelt issue. He acknowledged the water march brought the West Side water issue to “everyone’s attention” but that was about it. He says it is going to take a major overhaul of the ESA, but believes with Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats running the House, the chances of that are slim to none. “But that does not mean we are not going to still try.”

Radanovich repeats the obvious when he says two of the best solutions to California’s water crisis are construction of the peripheral canal, which would carry water more efficiently through the Delta, and Temperance Flat Dam above Millerton Lake in Radanovich’s district.

“It will take a long time to get there with those two projects,” says Radanovich. “We need water now to save jobs and farms.”

Radanovich says there are interim solutions. One is called Two Gates; a project the Central Valley congressman says is “shovel-ready.” It is a $25 million barrier that would keep smelt safe from the pumps. It has been permitted and once approved for funding, could be completed in as quickly as 90 days.

Radanovich said Two Gates would boost water deliveries to West Side farmers to 45 percent of normal from the current 10 percent. It could save 45,000 jobs in the San Joaquin Valley. He says it has the support of powerful California Congressman George Miller and “some” environmental groups.

Two Gates was submitted to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for funding under the American Recovery and Re-investment Act. It was not included in the final list of projects. However, Radanovich believes there is an 80 percent chance he can still get it funded.

Radanovich has been an ally to agriculture since his first day in office. He is one of us, yet he was ensnarled in the California water crisis with the backlash from his comments at the water walk rally.

The criticism of the Valley Congressman may not have not been justified. However, it was a symptom that the crisis is growing worse and more infuriating each day.

email: hcline@farmpress.com