A recent Fresno Bee Op-Ed by author Mark Arax recalls a Congressional field hearing at Fresno City Hall in 2014 about the drought. Two members of Families Protecting the Valley Board of Directors testified at the hearing so we are well aware of what happened there. One of them was Kole Upton who has commented where appropriate in the Op-Ed. His comments appear in bold print.
The farmers looked haunted as they gathered at City Hall that day to attend a congressional field hearing on the drought. To irrigate their crops, they were siphoning the entire flow of our local rivers and pumping like mad from the aquifer below. Now this water, too, was turning to sand.
UPTON: Yes, we were in a drought. Mr. Arax makes it sound like it was a conspiracy by farmers. In fact, the Friant service area is a conjunctive use system and farmers have always used the underground aquifer when surface water was not available. 2014 was no different.
Nunes knew the sky hadn’t spilled enough rain in three years. He knew we were facing the hottest and driest spell on record. But it wasn’t drought that bedeviled our valley, he’d told us. It was a conspiracy hatched by the Communists.
UPTON: Many of us attended the same Hearing. We do not remember that being the emphasis of Congressman Nunes’ comments. Rather, he was pointing out that farmers and their surface water supplies have been under attack since 1992 by environmental ideologues and their sympathizers in the State and Federal regulatory agencies. They have been very successful in taking away hundreds of thousands of acre feet of water from farmers. Unfortunately, much of this water has not resulted in any benefit to the environment.
I knew a thing or two about water since writing a book called “The King of California” that told the story of the cotton empire of J.G. Boswell, which had risen out of the bottom of Tulare Lake, once the biggest body of freshwater west of the Mississippi. I had heard a lot of cockamamie reasons to explain the movement of snowmelt up and down the state. But it never occurred to me that real live Communists were influencing our gravity.
UPTON: Not worthy of a comment.
I thought I’d attend the field hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources to hear for myself the congressman’s logic. Though we were both valley boys, I had never seen Nunes in action. I had come from a tribe of Armenians who grew grapes and cooked raisins in the Fresno sun. He came from a tribe of Azorean Portuguese who grew alfalfa and milked cows in Tulare.
UPTON: Interesting how folks who opine on San Joaquin Valley water issues apparently think it gives them some credibility by referring to their farming roots.
Nunes, by contrast, was almost completely grim. Term after term, for more than a decade in office, he had staked out the most extreme position on water in the West. The bills he authored had little chance of influencing debate, much less becoming law. And yet every two years, we sent him back to Washington D.C. by an ever wider margin.
UPTON: The obvious inference here is that the Congressman’s constituents are not intelligent enough to see the truth so obvious to Mr. Arax.
Government authorities were working in cahoots with the leftists. The dying smelt had become a convenient cover to toss away millions of acre feet of water during drought. This was water destined for the valley, water that was being wasted on the ocean. “This is not a result of global warming or drought,” Nunes intoned. “It’s a result of government run amok.”
UPTON: Just as Mr. Arax uses hyperbole to emphasize his point of view, perhaps Mr. Nunes is doing the same. Having discussed this water situation with many farmers, we think Mr. Nunes’ views are pretty close to the reality of the situation.
Four years later, I watch from afar as the dairy farmer’s son, now a player on the national stage, joins hands with Fox TV showman Sean Hannity to conjure a “deep state” conspiracy to protect a president.
UPTON: Most of us are sick with D.C. and what’s been going on there for years. Obviously, Mr. Arax totally buys into the Democratic view on this issue. It is possible Mr. Nunes takes his responsibility seriously, and is trying to ferret out the truth.
News footage depicted orchards uprooted, fields fallowed and equipment spoiling to rust. Never mind that the fallowed dirt where Hannity and Nunes were standing next to each other had produced a bounty of tomatoes the day before. One hundred feet away, beyond camera frame, acre after acre of irrigated green fields awaited harvest.
UPTON: So, thousands of acres of fruits, nuts and vineyards have not been abandoned in the San Joaquin Valley? So, many disadvantaged communities have not run out of drinking water for their citizens? Mr. Arax conveniently ignores any facts that do not support his narrative.
From drought to the federal investigation of Russia meddling in our elections, Nunes continues to reprise the old boogeyman. He lies the same way old Joseph McCarthy lied.
UPTON: Mr. Arax compares Mr. Nunes to Joe McCarthy? He must have a weak argument if he resorts to name calling.
Some farmers now wonder if Nunes’ role as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has gone to his head. Even if the art of compromise was in his blood, they say, his Deep State fixations leave little room to do the hard work of fixing California’s oversubscribed water system. They dare to say that Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been a far more effective advocate on water than Nunes.
UPTON: Actually, we need both Feinstein and Nunes. Nothing will get through the Senate without Senator Feinstein. Compared to our other California Senator (Kamala Harris) and the head of the California State Water Resources Control Board (Felicia Marcus), Senator Feinstein is a ‘water baron’.
“But this part of the valley is more like Georgia than the rest of California. Most people here don’t care that he’s neglecting their issues. As long as he’s throwing red meat at them, they’ll send him back to Washington for more.”
UPTON: We do feel sympathy for Mr. Arax and Mr. Gordon to have to live in the San Joaquin Valley surrounded by the ignorant and uninformed.