House approves contentious California drought relief bill

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2014 - The House today approved legislation (H.R. 3964), on a mostly party-line vote of 229-191, which aims to provide emergency drought relief throughout California.

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The bill, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act, would repeal some of California's authority over its Central Valley, rolling back the Central Valley Project Improvement Act and the Endangered Species Act in vital water areas.

Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said their bill would incorporate three main actions:

  • Turning on the Delta pumps this year and next year to capture future rain events.
  • Ending restoration flows in the San Joaquin River for this year and next year in order to stop wasting water.
  • Establishing a bipartisan, emergency joint committee from the House and Senate to devise a long-term legislative solution.

The legislation has reignited age-old and fierce California fights over water distribution. Many Democrats claim the bill would override state laws and protections, while mandating that certain water interests in the state take priority over others.

Valadao and Nunes have said current California laws impose overly costly regulations that deprive people and industry of water in favor of fish. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called the bill “a solution to California's man-made water problems,” implicitly blaming Democrat-favored regulatory programs for California's water crisis.

House passage of the bill came a day after the administration announced it would provide $20 million to aid California farmers struggling through the historic drought.

Recently, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) declared a state of emergency directing state officials to take necessary actions to combat serious drought conditions as farmers there are dealing with record low levels of rainfall. The declaration said the state's water supplies have dropped to alarming levels with snowpack in California's mountains at about 20 percent of the normal average, low water reservoir levels, and reduced surface water flows. In addition to the drought, several wildfires have continued to rage across various parts of the state.

The House-passed bill is not expected to move in the Senate.

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