WASHINGTON, May 22, 2014 – The Senate Thursday evening passed by unanimous consent a bill designed to help California and other Western states through one of the region’s worst droughts on record.

The Emergency Drought Relief Act would give federal and state water agencies additional flexibility to deliver water where it is most needed. The legislation, sponsored by the state’s two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Dean Heller, R.-Nev., must now be reconciled with a separate bill passed by the House of Representatives.

“The drought in California is devastating and shows no signs of letting up,” Feinstein said after the bill was agreed to.“Congress must take immediate action to help alleviate the suffering of farmers, workers, businesses and communities throughout the state.”

The next step is working with the House, which has passed a measure that loosens some regulations to deal with the water shortage. Supporters of the House bill have said the Senate’s plan favors fish over people

“My hope is that this process can proceed quickly and bypass many of the controversial issues that have been raised in the past,” Feinstein said in a news release.

Feinstein said the bill aims to cut red tape and increase flexibility for federal agencies, while leaving federal laws and regulations untouched, including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

Click here to see Feinstein’s statement listing the bill’s key provisions.

The California Farm Water Coalition estimates that the drought will result in 800,000 acres of farmland being fallowed this year, removing them from production. The coalition says the state’s economy could lose as much as $7.5 billion and 15,000 jobs.

A recent report from the University of California, Davis, estimates the Central Valley’s agriculture industry will lose $1.7 billion in economic activity and will see a 32 percent (6.5 million acre foot) reduction in surface water supplies as a direct result of the drought.


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