Congressman retells Humphrey’s adventure;
thanks advocates of Travis Air Force Base
Congressman John Garamendi made a stop in Rio Vista Thursday morning, as “Wake Up Rio Vista’s” guest speaker at the Striper Café.
Tables and chairs filled the left side of the establishment, as curious residents, City staff, Council members and business owners listened and asked questions at approximately 8 a.m.
“All too often I pass through Rio Vista to Fairfield. I’m glad that this time I can stop and share some time,” said Garamendi. “Those of us that call ourselves river rats know the joy of living across from the Sacramento River.”
Garamendi has lived in neighboring Walnut Grove since 1977, and has been a consistent supporter of Delta farmland, its keepers and protecting the river’s water since his jump into the realm of politics.
“The Delta is a very special part of the world,” he said. “Last night, as I drove down Highway 160, I thought, ‘Wow. I’m so lucky and fortunate to live here.’”
But according to Garamendi, the Delta’s unique beauty and tradition has always been at risk. His family’s ranch sits in Calaveras County and behind that home lies hydraulic mines. Since their installation, he says, the Delta was forever changed.
“It took 1 billion cubic yards of dirt and dumped it into the Delta,” he said. “This raised the levels of the bottom of the river and put the levees at risk.”
Since such drastic changes, other factors have hit the Delta hard. One of his major concerns: climate change.
“This is a significant challenge for us,” said Garamendi. “The ocean will rise. Now, we’re trying to change the way the Federal government looks at flood protection.”
According to the Congressman, there is no overarching, holistic flood plan for the entire Central Valley. Residents nodded their heads, as they remembered the flood of 1986, which swept through Rio Vista.
Currently Garamendi and his colleagues are proposing two pieces of legislation to protect the region, which he calls home.
The National Heritage Bill for the Delta, if approved, will not allow the federal government to intervene.
“One piece is making the area a historic regions,” he said. “The National Heritage Bill for the Delta gives a status to the Delta. By giving that status, it’s a way of protection of the age, the history and the environment.”
Though he admits it’s nearly impossible to move any piece of legislation through Congress, he hopes his efforts pay off.
He also spoke about “Water Wars,” which have been a topic of concern for decades.
“The hydraulic mines shut down because of water wars and because of contamination,” he said.
Garamendi was an Assemblyman in 1975 and represented the San Joaquin and Sacramento portion of the Delta.
“We were fighting the peripheral canal then,” he said. “The push for water can strip all the environmental rights of the Delta and it puts the Reclamation of Water District ahead of all the water rights.”
Such moves [legislation] would put the Delta at dire risk.
“It’s an incredible piece,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh, this is a nuclear war. Lets have at it.’”
“Never amend a turkey,” he laughed. “Just kill it. If it’s a bad piece of legislation, it will always be.”
In his eyes, all Delta residents should be pushing for similar things, such as basic water rights and protections.
“We’re growing in population and water consumption is everywhere. We need to recycle our water,” he said. “We live on the fifth biggest river from Alaska to Chile.”
Taking river water and pushing it to Southern California users is a bad idea, and according to the Congressman, should be fought at all costs.
“They [Southern Californians] use it and then dump it into the ocean,” he said. “We need to fix the Delta. Whether there will be a canal or a tunnel we don’t know.”
If a peripheral canal or tunnel became a reality, it wouldn’t be in place for more than 20 years.
“Until then? Protect the Delta,” he said.
Sherman Island is at the most risk. “You lose Sherman Island and you lose the Delta.”
Environmental and economic studies should be in place for the future, while all Deltans fight to maintain their water rights. Another example: The Endangered Species Act was put in place, but without it, the rivers would be fishless.
“In the past the whole Delta was filled with boats. And they were all fishing,” he said. “I didn’t see one boat on the water this morning.”
Another hot issue was “fracking.” Hydraulic fracturing is done from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations, in order to increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of oil and natural gas.
“Ten to 20 years ago they did an exemption that they didn’t have to do an environmental assessment of fracking,” he said. “Big mistake. Whether or not fracking is bad, is dependent on the geology of the area.”
In some states, such as New York, fracking has led to the release of natural gas into the aqua filter.
“Hopefully the gas industry, which controls Congress, will support an environmental study where fracking occurs,” said Garamendi.
“Generally, it hasn’t been a problem in this area,” said Rio Vista Mayor Jan Vick.
Vick represented the City as well as Council members Janith Norman and Connie Boulware. Chamber Board Member Hale Conklin attended, as well as Bank of Stockton CEO Virginia Varela, Chamber Executive Director Mary Peinado and former Mayor Marci Coglianese. City Manager Hector De La Rosa sat in the opposing room for breakfast, though didn’t peak in to listen or mingle with the Congressman.
He ended his speech with one of his favorite Delta memories – that of Humphrey the Whale.
“I’ll always remember getting Humphrey past the Rio Vista Bridge,” he said.
The Congressman and other agencies contacted a Russian whale scientist who asked how long Humphrey had been lurking in the Delta.
“He told me, ‘I bet that whale is hungry,’” said Garamendi. “So a guy from Hawaii had an underwater speaker system to push the whale out.”
Garamendi boarded the boat, and worked with the Navy and Army on opposite sides of the river.
“The US Navy had patrol boats, 70-feet long, with 50-caliber machine guns,” he laughed. “The Army had an old sergeant, right out of the movies.”
After flipping the switch and propelling underwater sounds for Humphrey, the whale was within 10 feet of the boat in 20 minutes.
“The whale was right behind us the whole time!” he said. “ And then we headed for the Bay.”
The Navy and the Army arrived at the exact same time, and an ego battle ensued. Congressman Garamedi listed, as did others, to the short-stifled interaction.
“The Army Sergeant said, ‘This is my river! Sacramento is bigger!’” said Garamendi. “This went back and forth for 20 minutes. Then the Navy Captain told the Army Sergeant that he was coming aboard. When the Navy Captain claimed the water, the Sergeant said, ‘Sir. You’re on my boat!’”
The crowed within Striper Café laughed as Garamendi proceeded with his humorous tale of the legendary Humpback.
“After that we got Humphrey to Fisherman’s Wharf, where he decided to parade in front of the wharf. We saw him out to the Golden Gate,” he said.
Nearing 9:30 a.m. it was time for final questions. Councilmember Janith Norman asked about Medicare, while another Rio Vista resident finished up with a final thought. Congressman Garamendi mingled with folks for a bit, but was headed to Fairfield for a meeting later that morning.