Feinstein releases discussion draft of drought bill

By Stephen Davies

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 21, 2016 -- A new California drought relief bill has been released, but it's anybody's guess whether it has a snowball's chance of making it through Congress.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., released a discussion draft on Thursday that “includes a wide range of provisions to address both long-term water supply needs (storage, desalination, recycling) as well as short-term, temporary solutions to make the water-delivery system more efficient during this drought,” a news release from her office said.

 “In my 23 years in the Senate, this has been the most difficult bill to put together. The maxim that whiskey's for drinking and water's for fighting is alive and well in California,” Feinstein said.

“The bill reflects many meetings between Democrats and Republicans, water districts, cities, rural communities, farmers, fishermen and a number of environmental groups,” Feinstein said. “This is a bill that offers real help to California while adhering to the laws and biological opinions that protect fish and wildlife.”

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She said she would be holding meetings over the next week to get feedback from a wide range of interested parties.

“I'm holding meetings over the next several days with environmental groups, water districts and farmers to discuss these provisions with them, and I will also meet with those House members who have indicated a desire to discuss the bill when they return to Washington early next week.”

The senator and House Republicans from her state feuded in December over draft legislation, which the GOP had apparently tried to include in the omnibus using Feinstein's name, something which Feinstein said she never approved. She called the incident “regrettable.”

House Republicans subsequently held a press conference to blast the senior senator, saying she had come up with the idea to use the omnibus.

Despite the high-profile sniping, Feinstein insisted she would continue working on a bill. It's unclear how many groups were involved in coming up with the latest version of the legislation.

“I do not know anyone who was involved with the redraft,” said Dennis Nuxoll, vice president for federal government affairs for Western Growers, when he was contacted Thursday afternoon.

Nuxoll said he could not comment on the discussion draft because he had not yet read it or consulted with water districts in his state.

Feinstein spokesman Tom Mentzer said many groups have been consulted over the past few months. As for the California House Republicans, “There have been many discussions and meetings with those House offices over the last several months, but none since the omnibus.”

Excerpts from Feinstein's statement follow:

--“The bill increases the WaterSMART authorization by $150 million, some of which can now be used for a new Bureau of Reclamation program to help rural and disadvantaged communities that are running out of water.”

--“The bill authorizes $200 million for the Reclamation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, known as RIFIA. This loan-guarantee program will help water districts and municipalities fund long-term solutions to store water and provide clean water.”

--“The bill authorizes $600 million for water storage projects in California and other Western states. These funds may be used on federal projects like Shasta as well as non-federal projects like Sites, Temperance Flat and Los Vaqueros. The bill also establishes deadlines for the Bureau of Reclamation to complete feasibility studies to build or raise dams. These funds run through 2025.”

--“The bill identifies 27 desalination projects in California-which could produce more than 330,000 acre-feet of water-that the Secretary of the Interior must consider funding in addition to other qualifying projects. The list was primarily drawn from the California Water Plan. The bill also reauthorizes the Desalination Act and authorizes $100 million for feasibility studies and project design as well as desalination research to improve reverse osmosis and membrane technology. These funds run through 2020.”

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--“The bill identifies 105 water recycling projects-which could produce more than 850,000 acre-feet of water-that the Secretary of the Interior must consider funding in addition to other qualifying projects. The list was compiled by the Association of California Water Agencies, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, the Water Reuse Association, the Western Recycled Water Coalition and the California Association of Sanitation Agencies.”

The bill also would authorize $200 million for the Bureau of Reclamation's Title XVI water recycling program and “streamlines the program by eliminating the hurdle of congressional authorization for individual projects. The bill also increases the authorization of the Bureau of Reclamation's WaterSMART program by $150 million (from $350 million to $500 million) for long-term water conservation, reclamation and recycling projects.”

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