California Farmland Lies Bare and Dry—Over a Fish? Central Valley farmers want water, but it's complicated By Neal Colgrass, Newser Staff Posted Feb 3, 2014 4:55 PM CST 53 comments Comments These are smelt. (Shutterstock) (Newser) – California is embroiled in a water crisis that's right out of Chinatown. In the midst of a devastating drought, state officials cut off water to thousands of acres of Central Valley farmland—in part to protect smelt fish from swimming into pumps and going extinct. Not surprisingly, farmers and conservatives have been stewing since water supplied by the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta was reduced in 2007. "This is a classic tale of activist government run amok—and, too, of the peculiarly suicidal instincts that rich and educated societies exhibit when they reach maturity," writes Charles Cooke in a biting National Review piece that calls environmentalism a "religion." Governor Jerry Brown took action last month by declaring a drought emergency, giving himself the option of sending water to farmers and endangering the smelt, KCET reports. But it's not all about fish: The delta also needs to pump fresh water into the Pacific (and not to farmers) to keep seawater from intruding and ruining the delta's water supply, says the LA Times editorial board. Seeking a workaround, Brown wants to spend $15 billion on two 30-mile water tunnels that would run under the delta and supply farmland, reports Bloomberg. Left-wing critics (see Indybay) are slamming him for that plan as well—which leaves things where, exactly? "We're looking at just a huge amount of land going unplanted," a water-district rep tells the San Francisco Chronicle. "And I don't think we've seen the full effect of it yet."