March 12, 2020

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Citing drought fears, House committee passes water bills
During a House Natural Resources committee hearing yesterday, arguments flared among California members of Congress over funding for water projects.
Democrats advanced bills on desalination and water recycling projects, while Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove pushed hard to spend that funding on surface water storage instead.
Much of the conversation focused on per-acre costs for projects. McClintock wanted to raise Shasta Dam to add more storage, which he saw as the cheaper option. Rep. Mike Levin of San Diego shot back that the Shasta project would “never happen” because the state is fighting against it. Rep. Jared Huffman of the North Coast region argued that costs for desalination have also gone down to make it more affordable than some storage projects.
The committee ultimately passed six water bills. Among them was a bill by Rep. Josh Harder of Turlock that offers “a hodgepodge of conservation projects,” as McClintock criticized. The bill would add $100 million for four storage projects. But it would also spread up to $800 million across programs for groundwater storage, recycling and reuse.
Fresno Reps. TJ Cox and Jim Costa were both concerned about additional language approved by Harder to deliver a “net excess” of water to the environment “above and beyond” what state and federal laws require. Yet they remained committed to the measure.
On that note: Cox will host a roundtable discussion in Kingsburg on Friday with local farmers and Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-MN.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif.

Fishing and conservation groups sue Trump administration over biological opinions
The Golden State Salmon Association announced yesterday it has filed a lawsuit in partnership with other advocacy groups to halt the new operations plan for the Central Valley Project.
The claim alleges federal agencies approved the plan knowing it would “injure and kill more members of imperiled fish populations than the previous operations plan.” It falls in line with an earlier lawsuit by Gov. Newsom’s administration.
In an accompanying op-ed in CalMatters, two of the groups’ executives argue that farmers in the Westlands Water District have been acting irresponsibly by overdrafting aquifers, planting permanent crops and farming “toxic soils.” The groups do not mention water deliveries to Southern California cities.
On that note: Jeffrey Kightlinger will be stepping down. He is the longest-serving general manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Kightlinger has also been a prominent voice for Los Angeles water users in the ongoing negotiations over Delta pumping operations and water deliveries south.
Kightlinger’s exit follows an uncertain time for Metropolitan. Lawsuits have stalled voluntary settlement agreements while water users along the Colorado River are negotiating long-term cutbacks and San Diego has been battling the district for a decade over those allocations.
China may deserve ‘flexibility’ on ag purchases
Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley, whose committee oversees trade policy, says China may deserve some flexibility when it comes to fulfilling promises under the “phase one” trade deal because of the difficulties dealing with the coronavirus.
“I think we can say that they’re taking the proper steps to carry out ‘phase one,’ but the subtraction from that would be their economy is in trouble,” Grassley told reporters Wednesday. “And the extent to which their economy is in trouble, I think they would have some flexibility.”
Those steps Grassley referenced include actions taken by China to lift trade barriers such as the country’s recent decision to lift its ban on U.S. beef from cattle over 30 months old at slaughter.
Take note: The U.S. and China did not lift tariffs as part of “phase one,” but Grassley says there are talks in the White House on potentially lifting tariffs to ease the coronavirus pressure.
“I think in order for it to do any good it would have to be reciprocal,” he said. China recently began taking applications from importers there for limited exemptions from tariffs on U.S. farm goods.
Broadband funds neutral on technology
The FCC is moving ahead with a $20.4 billion program to expand broadband access to rural America, despite congressional critics who say the agency should have first fixed its maps that are supposed to identify service gaps.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argues the agency has adequate information to move forward and vowed to be technology-neutral when distributing funds.
“It is important to make sure we’re technologically-neutral in order to enable the technology that best suits a particular part of the country to be able to deliver broadband,” Pai told Agri-Pulse.

FDA commissioner, Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala, bumped elbows after a hearing. 

FDA chief: Plant-based terms may mislead consumers
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn says he shares concerns that consumers are being misled by dairy terms that are used by plant-based alternatives. But he says there are potential First Amendment issues in restricting the use of terms and that agency lawyers are working through the issue.
The use of dairy terms “may lead consumers to believe that these products have the same key nutritional attributes as dairy products, even though these products can vary widely in their nutritional content,” Hahn told the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday.
He gave no timetable for a decision.
Lawmakers want to measure conservation outcomes
A new bipartisan bill would authorize USDA to start measuring the environmental impact of farm bill conservation programs.
Among other things, the Farmer Driven Conservation Outcomes Act would require USDA to use up to 1% of the funding available for new program enrollments to pay for the measurement and evaluation process. The findings would be made public only if the individual data is aggregated to protect personally identifiable information.
Congress looks to contain outbreak fallout
The growing economic fears over the coronavirus outbreak – now officially a global pandemic – have lawmakers working to pass a stimulus package, including expanded nutrition assistance for low-income Americans. The House is expected to vote today on a bill.
He said it:
“The stone fruit industry needs certainty in our export markets. Reducing and eliminating trade barriers to expand market access is essential to the health and future of the industry.” - Brian Keavy, a fruit grower in Kingsburg, testifying in a hearing Tuesday for the House Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture.

Bill Tomson and Ben Nuelle contributed to this report.

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