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New Calif. drought relief bill faces opposition

A new drought-relief bill a California congressman has proposed to make the most out of this summer's negotiations with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has itself encountered opposition from Democrats in the House of Representatives.
Tim Hearden

Capital Press

Published on December 8, 2014 11:32AM

In this file photo, irrigation water runs along the dried-up ditch between the rice farms to provide water for the rice fields on Thursday, May 1, 2014, in Richvale, Calif. A California Congressman has introduced a bill that would allow more water to be pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta during storms.

Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press

In this file photo, irrigation water runs along the dried-up ditch between the rice farms to provide water for the rice fields on Thursday, May 1, 2014, in Richvale, Calif. A California Congressman has introduced a bill that would allow more water to be pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta during storms.

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A California congressman’s drought relief bill is encountering criticism from Democrats in the House of Representatives.

U.S. Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., has introduced legislation his office says is a watered-down version of a bill that passed the House earlier this year but couldn’t be reconciled with a Senate measure sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The legislation would allow more water to be pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta during storms but wouldn’t affect the Endangered Species Act, explained Kevin Eastman, spokesman for Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., a bill cosponsor.

“The primary effect of this bill ... is to allow increased access to water in the Sacramento watershed and Delta during winter storms when water levels are higher than they normally are,” Eastman said. “Our goal is to pass this bill and allow California to bank more water from what storms we do get so we’re prepared for the coming year.”

But seven Northern California Democrats in the House say the bill is another attempt to “override” environmental laws and would make it difficult for state and federal water agencies to make real-time water decisions.

“The idea that this bill is a ‘compromise’ is laughable,” said a statement by Reps. Jared Huffman, George Miller, Mike Thompson, Doris Matsui, Jerry McNemey, John Garamendi and Ami Bera.

The lawmakers lamented that the bill wasn’t reviewed by the Natural Resources Committee or by affected water agencies or industries.

“It is clear that this bill was thrown together without any input from anyone other than those who stand to benefit from its passage,” they said.

The bill — House Resolution 5781 — was introduced last week after Feinstein, D-Calif., announced that efforts to merge her bill with the earlier House version were dead for the year.

Legislation by Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., offered $300 million in aid and would have directed federal agencies to be as flexible as the law allows in facilitating water transfers.

The bill that passed the GOP-led House in February would have eased environmental restrictions on pumping from the Delta to send water south, where some 500,000 acres of cropland was expected to be idle this summer.

Feinstein worked with House Republicans for months to try to arrive at a compromise that could pass both chambers, drawing criticism from environmental and fishing groups and some members of Congress from her own party. She vows to try again in 2015, The Associated Press reported.

Feinstein’s office did not respond to the Capital Press’ inquiry as to whether she has an opinion on the latest bill.

Valadao’s bill won praise from California Farm Bureau Federation president Paul Wenger, who said in a statement that the legislation keeps the issue “front and center” in Washington.

“When we have storms such as those that have reached California this week, we simply must be able to capture as much of that runoff as possible,” Wenger said.

Eastman rejects criticism that the new bill would undermine environmental regulations, arguing it is “almost entirely language that California Republicans in the House worked on in negotiations with Sen. Feinstein,” who’s known as an environmental stalwart.

“We’re very optimistic that we have a bill that, if you take an honest look at it, is very non-controversial,” Eastman said. “It’s temporary in nature, it addresses an emergency the state is facing now. We’re going to pass it out of the House, and we’re optimistic that Sen. Feinstein and other members of the Senate will take a fair look at it. We have a good opportunity to pass it in the Senate as well.”

Online

House Resolution 5781: http://valadao.house.gov/uploadedfiles/hr5781.pdf



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