Hannity demands Obama “turn this water on now” in Central California -- but pumps have been on for months

Broadcasting live from California's Central Valley, Sean Hannity continued his oft-repeated attack on “radical” environmentalists and the Obama administration for supporting water pumping restrictions that protect threatened delta smelt, by claiming the restrictions are “drying up this once fertile area” and calling on President Obama to “turn this water on now.” But according to the Department of the Interior, the pumping restrictions ended on June 30 and have been returning to capacity since; moreover, water resource issues in the valley persist for many reasons, including years of drought in California, despite conservatives' attempts to blame problems solely on the restrictions.

Hannity demands Washington “turn this water on now”

From the September 17 edition of Fox News' Hannity:

HANNITY: And welcome to this special edition of Hannity. We are live in the Central Valley in California. This is some of the most fertile farmland in the entire country and helps sustain the entire country in terms of food, and what has become ground zero in a battle between environmentalists and whether or not the farmers in the Central Valley here have water.

Ladies and gentlemen, this has become a dust bowl. And we came here tonight with a message for Washington and President Barack Obama: Please, for the sake of the farmers where unemployment is now near 40 percent, please turn this water on now.

[begin video clip]

CROWD: Obama, Obama, Obama.

OBAMA: Hope is in the future. [...] We are hungry for change. [...] We will transform this country. [...] We are ready to believe again.

HANNITY: All of those promises, all of that hope. And, yet, in the San Joaquin Valley of California, hope doesn't spring eternal. This land was once considered the breadbasket of America. Roughly 12 percent of our nation's agricultural output came from this valley between Bakersfield and Sacramento. But everything has now changed.

Today, their water is gone, shut off by the government. And the same people whose cheers of hope and change echoed from this valley all the way to Washington have been abandoned in favor of a fish barely large enough to fit into the palm of your hand.

The scene here today is more reminiscent of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Farms that once fed the nation are barren; the parched and cracked earth. It's right out of The Grapes of Wrath. Thousands have lost their jobs. They line up each and every day at unemployment offices for the chance merely to put food on their table.

With all the money being spent on a failed stimulus, health care reform, and bailing out Wall Street banks, the solution here is relatively simple: turn the water back on.

Tonight, we tell you the story of how a government has failed its own people, how radical environmentalists threaten the American dream, and how a liberal agenda that promised so much has left so many great Americans behind.

Welcome to “The Valley that Hope Forgot.”

[end video clip]

HANNITY: And ladies and gentlemen, you are looking live at the thousands of people who have shown up here in the Central Valley of California. They want their farms back, they want their jobs back, and they want the water turned back on.

Now, tonight, you are going to hear from some of the politicians who are fighting on behalf of the citizens in this region. We will also talk to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. And we will even hear from an environmentalist who is actually defending the government's decision that are responsible for drying up this once fertile area.

Interior Department: “The pumps are on”

Pumping restrictions to protect delta smelt ended June 30. From a September 17 Department of the Interior document:


Q. Some people are blaming the Obama Administration's efforts to conserve salmon populations and the delta smelt, a threatened fish, for water shortages in the Central Valley. They are asking the federal government to turn on water pumps that deliver water through the Bay Delta to Central Valley users, but which -- to protect the Bay Delta and fish populations -- were recently subject to temporary pumping restrictions. Why won't the Obama Administration turn the pumps on?

A. The pumps are on. The temporary pumping restrictions that were required under the Endangered Species Act ended on June 30th. They accounted for approximately one-quarter of 2009 water delivery shortages to farms and water users; the other three-quarters of this year's delivery shortage were the result of a lack of run-off.

Biological opinion set end date of June 30 or earlier for pumping restrictions. The biological opinion released December 15, 2008, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service required pumping restrictions during a period in which larval delta smelt are likely to be present and vulnerable to the pumping. The opinion states that the pumping restrictions end either on June 30 or earlier if the daily average water temperature reached a certain level.

Interior Department charts show significant increase in water flow since June. According to charts from the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation, the Central Valley Project's federal pump at the C.W. “Bill” Jones Pumping Plant near Tracy, California -- referred to as “Tracy” -- and state pumps at the Harvey O. Banks Pumping Plant -- referred to as “Banks” -- have significantly increased water flow from June, when the restrictions were lifted, to July and August. Moreover, a September 8 memorandum from the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority indicated that the “Jones” pump “held to capacity levels throughout August.”

Drought, not fish protections, responsible for most of decline in water exports from bay delta

Department of Water Resources: 75 percent of 2009 shortfall due to drought. A Department of Water Resources document on 2009 water conditions shows that a loss of 500,000 acre feet of water are due to fish protections while 1.6 million acre feet were lost as a result of drought.

2009 is third consecutive year of drought in California. In an August 31 drought update, the Department of Water Resources stated, “Water Year 2009 is the third consecutive dry year for the state. Water Year 2007-08 resulted in 63 percent of average annual precipitation across the state, and Water Year 2008-09 resulted in 72 percent of average annual precipitation. By the end of July, 2009, statewide precipitation stood at 78 percent of average for this water year.”

Fresno Bee columnist slams Hannity for “made-to-fit lies and omissions as facts”

Bill McEwen: Hannity “exaggerated, distorted and turned a complex situation into a hysterical rant.” In a September 19 Fresno Bee column, Bill McEwen wrote that “Sean Hannity came to the San Joaquin Valley a few days ago and did what he does best. He exaggerated, distorted and turned a complex situation into a hysterical rant.” McEwen argued that the area's water resource issues are a result of decades of actions from the federal government, and that Hannity ignored the fact that “the pumps have been on since June 30 -- too late for spring plantings, admittedly, but on nonetheless despite claims otherwise by three local congressmen and comedian Paul Rodriguez.” From the column:

Sean Hannity came to the San Joaquin Valley a few days ago and did what he does best. He exaggerated, distorted and turned a complex situation into a hysterical rant.

But I'll give the Fox News right-wing shouter this: citing all the wrong reasons, he unintentionally fingered the right culprit for the economic disaster unfolding on the Valley's west side and in Northern California.

To hear Hannity and his cast of local enablers tell it, farmers and farmworkers in the Westlands Water District are suffering the pain of a water shortage caused by activist federal judges, the delta smelt and President Barack Obama's administration.

Not much of that -- or anything else he said -- is true. But, in fact, the federal government does bear much of the responsibility for the mess entangling the west side, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the decline of salmon along California's coast.

Decades ago, federal authorities promised more water to farmers than they could deliver. They compounded the mistake by offering subsidies and incentives that encouraged small farmers to become mega-farmers.

Then they turned around and -- again with incentives -- encouraged small fishermen to build bigger boats and bigger fleets, further endangering salmon.

The whole time, few in the federal bureaucracy had either the wisdom or the courage to ask how much water would be needed to sustain California's fish and wildlife, much less the state's population growth.

Hannity, of course, didn't say this. He's incapable of anything but shouting, mugging to his fans and palming off his made-to-fit lies and omissions as facts.

The activist federal judge ruling on many issues affecting the delta, farmers and fishermen is Oliver W. Wanger, a conservative Republican appointed by President George H.W. Bush.

Hannity called the Central Valley “a Dust Bowl.” It's not. Millions of acres are being farmed, and most farmers are getting their water deliveries. In a one-hour show alleged to be about water, there wasn't a single second devoted to an explanation of the hierarchy of water rights under California law. Or a single word about the fact that Westlands' farmers have junior water rights, meaning that by law they get what is left after all the other interests have dipped into the state's sprawling water system.

Nor did Hannity bother to explain that Westlands' water comes from the Trinity River 400 miles away and that some Valley farmers sell their water rights to cities and developers.

And somehow Hannity, a fierce opponent of illegal immigration, didn't get around to noting that some of his newfound friends in agriculture rely on illegal immigrants to harvest their crops.

Hannity came here for two things: to tell the nation that a “2-inch minnow” is killing farming in the food basket of America, and to tell Obama to turn on delta pumps that send water to Westlands.

Never mind that the pumps have been on since June 30 -- too late for spring plantings, admittedly, but on nonetheless despite claims otherwise by three local congressmen and comedian Paul Rodriguez.

In a fake attempt at balance, Hannity conned Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, to be on the show. Hannity began the short segment by calling Grader “a wacko environmentalist from San Francisco” and any chance to have a thoughtful discussion about the destruction of the salmon fishing industry was lost.

All this said, the Obama administration's response to the economic hurt on the west side has been disappointing. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made it clear during a recent interview at The Bee that the president isn't interested in entering California's water wars.

If heavy rains don't come this winter, a good argument can be made for keeping the pumps on next spring so that Westlands' soil can be planted and watered -- particularly since there is evidence suggesting that pollution and non-native species also are contributing to the decline of fish in the delta.

But the long-term answers aren't that simple. Simple, unfortunately, is the only thing that Hannity understands.

Hannity has pushed “turn the water back on” meme for months, both before and after pump restrictions ended

Hannity, May 8: Farmers are “losing their livelihood.” Hannity did a segment about the restrictions on May 18, claiming that farmers are “losing their land, crops, and their livelihood, all because of a 2-inch fish.” Hannity said that "[b]ecause of this little fish, up to 80,000 people are going to lose jobs," and “all they've got to do is turn the water back on.” Fox News correspondent Ainsley Earhardt claimed that "[Farmers'] grandfathers were out there, blood, sweat and tears, making sure those crops are going to grow so you and I would have fruits, vegetables. And let me tell you, they are shutting it down because they think the minnow could get caught or does get caught in the pumps." Earhardt added: “It's fish versus families.” [Hannity, 5/8/09]

Hannity, June 19: “How about the endangered human list here?” Hannity hosted comedian Paul Rodriguez, who called the pumping restrictions “un-American,” noting that "[f]ish do not vote." Ignoring the natural drought, Hannity stated, “This is a little minnow fish, and literally farmers are -- they are -- their farms are becoming worthless, their crops are dying, their trees are dying. You can't bring these back. How about the endangered human list here? They're willing to wipe out the economy in this important vital growing area of our country.” During the segment, Rodriguez told Hannity to "[f]ocus this powerful microphone on our dilemma," to which Hannity responded, “I'm not going to let it go. I promise you ... I will do everything I can do.” [Hannity, 6/19/09]

Hannity, August 11: “Turn the water on and let the people in central California eat.” Hannity again hosted Rodriguez, who stated that “by next spring, you're going to get your vegetables from China.” Hannity said, "[W]here is Barack Obama, where is Nancy Pelosi, where is Harry Reid? Turn the water on and let the people in central California eat. I can't believe I'm even debating this, to be honest, Paul." Hannity later added, “I think this is really important. And I hope the president is watching or somebody will bring this to his attention, and somebody has got to turn the water back on. We've got to save these farmers. We've got to save these farms. We've got to do it for the people out there.” [Hannity, 8/11/09]

Other conservative media make similar distortions

The Wall Street Journal, September 2: “Californians can thank the usual environmental suspects” for farmers' problems. In a September 2 editorial, The Wall Street Journal asserted: “California has a new endangered species on its hands in the San Joaquin Valley -- farmers. Thanks to environmental regulations designed to protect the likes of the three-inch long delta smelt, one of America's premier agricultural regions is suffering in a drought made worse by federal regulations.” The Journal asserted that "[f]or this, Californians can thank the usual environmental suspects, er, lawyers," and that the “result has already been devastating for the state's farm economy.”

The Examiner, September 17: “Devastation to jobs and economic ruin mean nothing to radical environmentalists.” In a September 17 Examiner.com post, William Busse wrote that "[a]s usual, devastation to jobs and economic ruin mean nothing to radical environmentalists. To them, the Delta smelt's survival has a higher priority than the human condition. ... But really, by now should we even be surprised?"

Malkin: “Man-made drought ... wreaking havoc on farmers in the name of saving the Delta smelt.” On her blog, conservative commentator Michelle Malkin embedded video of Hannity's September 17 show, saying he “traveled to the San Joaquin Valley to report on the man-made drought that's wreaking havoc on farmers in the name of saving the Delta smelt.” Malkin also included video of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) speaking before the Senate rejected an amendment from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) that would prohibit funds from being made available for actions mandated by the biological opinion; Malkin called it a “bizarre statement in opposition to DeMint's attempt to save farmers from eco-hysteria.”

The Washington Times' Carpenter: Senate rejected amendment to “turn water pumps back on in the struggling farming area.” On her Washington Times blog, Amanda Carpenter wrote that “Fox News personality Sean Hannity took his highly-rated prime time television program there earlier this month to interview the farmers who were asking the government to get the water back. This brought national attention to a problem that had only been covered by a few outlets, like the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Hannity called his program 'The Valley that Hope Forgot' and slammed the Democrats in power for protecting fish at the expense of suffering farmers.” Carpenter noted DeMint's amendment, characterizing it as one that would “turn water pumps back on in the struggling farming area of California's Central Valley that were shut down earlier this year to save a three-inch fish.”