Westlands Masquerades As “Tea Party” In Astroturf Attack On Delta Film
Written By: Dan Bacher, October 19, 2012
The Westlands Water District, regarded as the poster child of government-subsidized corporate agribusiness in California, is apparently posing as the anti-tax, anti-big government “Central Valley Tea Party” in a campaign on Restore the Delta’s documentary “Over Troubled Waters.”
In a statement, Restore the Delta (RTD) on October 3 exposed the effort by Westlands, one of the largest beneficiaries of taxpayer subsidies, for “masquerading” as the “Central Valley Tea Party” to instigate opposition to RTD’s film documenting the public subsidies of water for huge, unsustainable corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
RTD is a well-respected coalition of farmers, fishermen, environmentalists and business owners dedicated to a fair water policy in California.
“It is hilarious that Westlands – huge growers who receive millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize their unsustainable practices,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, “wants to hide behind anti-tax groups. What utter hypocrisy.”
The Central Valley Tea Party appears to be one of a number of Astroturf groups that agribusiness interests have created to lobby for the peripheral canal or tunnel and increased water exports out of the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta. Other Astroturf groups include the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, a front for billionaire agribusinessman Stewart Resnick, and the Latino Water Coalition, a front for San Joaquin Valley exporters including Westlands.
Astroturfing refers to political, advertising or public relations campaigns that are designed to mask the sponsors of the message to give the appearance of coming from a disinterested, grassroots participant
Gayle Holman, Public Affairs Representative of the Westlands Water District, on October 2 sent out an appeal as the “Central Valley Tea Party” to instigate opposition to the screening of the film Thursday evening at Fresno City College. The Central Valley Tea Party (http://www.centralvalleyteaparty.com) describes itself as the "Grassroots Tea Party Movement in the Central Valley of California."
The alert, addressed to “Dear Growers, Workers, Business Partners, and Friends of Ag,” said, "I want to alert you to an important upcoming film screening in Fresno on Thursday, October 4th. Restore the Delta will be showing, ‘Over Troubled Waters.’”
“This is their version of a film documentary which opposes water deliveries for south of the Delta agricultural water users and includes numerous fallacies and lies,” Holman claimed. “It implies that agricultural activities on the Westside are tainted and ‘are in the process of destroying the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and estuary, and the fisheries that depend on it.’ Their opposition to conveyance and the efforts of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) are illustrated in a manipulated fashion by the likes of several Delta and fisheries supporters.”
“This negative rhetoric is old and tired which is why I encourage you to attend this FREE screening at Fresno City College on Thursday, October 4th at 7:00 PM in the Old Administrative Building Auditorium, 1101 East University Ave., Fresno, CA 93741,” this alert continued.
“Immediately following the Fresno screening will be a Water Panel with a Question & Answer session. It is important we have a solid attendance of Westside farmers, workers, business leaders, and friends of agriculture at THIS screening to provide factual answers and comments as they attempt to distort the truth in our own backyard. Restore the Delta has several planned screenings of this slanted documentary. This may be our only opportunity to set the record straight,” Holman concluded.
As it turned out, the Fresno screening of Over Troubled Waters was relatively uneventful. About 90 people showed up, about a dozen were Westlands growers, according to Barrigan-Parrilla.
“Most of that dozen left right after the film finished and did not interact with the panel,” she said. “I’m not sure what that means. We received about 4 defensive questions in the dozen or so question cards turned in by the audience. And when some of those people heard the answers to their questions, they immediately left.”
She added, “I don't think we had an impact – I think they went home to once again recreate their separate reality. Maybe, it will be a little harder this time to do so.”
Restore the Delta noted that Westlands Water District is a principal promoter of the proposed peripheral tunnels that would destroy sustainable farming in the Delta, the health of the Bay-Delta estuary, and coastal fisheries.
"Westlands growers, which contribute only .3% to the state’s annual GDP, see this project as a way to transform their junior water rights into permanent water guarantees at the expense of California’s water rate payers and tax payers," RTD said.
“Westlands growers disregard the importance of the Delta’s $5 billion a year agriculture economy; the Delta’s $650,000,000 recreational economy, and the $2 billion a year coastal salmon fishing economy – a total economy that supports millions of Californians, not a handful of large corporate farms,” RTD stated.
Earlier this year, the collective scientific community scathingly characterized the BDCP "Effects Analysis as junk science" and said that it would hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt and other fish species than restoring them.
As Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and RTD Executive Board member, stated, ""You can’t restore an estuary hemorrhaging from pollution and lack of flow by stealing more fresh water from it. That’s a death sentence for the Delta."
“Make no mistake,” stated Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. "The peripheral canal will destroy river ecosystems, destroy fisheries and sentence us to a future where clean water is a luxury rather than a right."