WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2014 – The House of Representatives next week will vote on a Republican bill designed to bring short-term relief to Californians suffering under the worst drought in a century.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., one of the sponsors of the legislation – the California Emergency Drought Relief Act (H.R. 5781) – said the measure will allow the state to increase the amount of water pumped from the Sacramento River Delta system south into the agriculturally rich Central Valley.

He emphasized that the measure, introduced by Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., would be limited to two years and said it would not affect the Endangered Species Act or the species listed under the legislation. Democrats had objected to previous GOP-backed drought legislation on concerns that it would weaken environmental protections.

“This bill will allow us to take advantage of increased flows through the Delta and provide much-needed water to our Valley’s families and farms,” Costa said.

While the bill is expected to have broad support among Republicans in the House, where they hold a majority, it would face opposition in the Senate, where the Democrats will remain in control through the current lame duck session, which only has a few days left to run.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California voiced her opposition on Wednesday.

"I have carefully studied the Republican water bill and I am dismayed that this measure could reignite the water wars by overriding critical state and federal protections for California,” Boxer said. “The GOP's proposal would dictate specific pumping levels -- regardless of the opinions of scientists - which could jeopardize our state's salmon fishing industry.

"We have communities across the state that are hurting from this drought, so we need a balanced approach that doesn't pit one stakeholder against another, and meets the needs of all of California's water users,” Boxer said.

Californian Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Leader, and another sponsor of the legislation, said immediate action is necessary.

“We have reached this point after years of inaction by Senate Democrats while ill-conceived policies have continued to prioritize the well-being of fish above people,” he said.

News that the drought bill would be voted on in the House came as the first rains of California’s wet season brought some relief to the drought. By early Wednesday, 2.4 inches of rain had fallen in the San Gabriel mountains and Los Angeles had received more than 1.2 inches.

“The first storms of the season are currently over California, with hopefully more to come in the subsequent months,” McCarthy noted. “It would be reckless and irresponsible to let the water from these storms be released into the ocean rather than directed to our local communities in need.”


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