Commentary: Is NAS water review legit?

Starting Sunday at UC Davis, the National Academy of Sciences will begin five days of hearings on federal water pumping restrictions aimed at protecting fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Given the academy's stature and reputation, we can't help but say "welcome" to all the scientists on the panel. That said, there are real questions about this review. Is it warranted on scientific grounds? Or is it just an effort by an influential U.S. senator to shore up her support among farmers in the San Joaquin Valley?

At issue are federal wildlife regulations that seek to protect steelhead, sturgeon, Delta smelt and two runs of salmon. At certain times of the year, the regulations set limits on reservoir operations and water diversions so fish aren't sucked into the Delta's water pumps. In the fall, the rules require more outflow through the Delta.

So far, two separate scientific panels have affirmed the importance of fall flows for the smelt. Yet farmers near Fresno, who have lost irrigation supplies to such rules, claim they are based on bogus science. And they have Sen. Dianne Feinstein on their side.

In September, the wealthy owner of Paramount Farms, Stewart Resnick, asked Feinstein for an outside scientific review. Feinstein, who has received significant campaign contributions from Resnick and other farmers over the years, readily complied.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.sacbee.com.