WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are making another push to pass legislation designed to bring more water to California’s farm belt despite criticism from the White House and congressional Democrats.
Similar efforts failed in the past two congressional sessions after the bills made it through the House.
California is in the midst of a four-year drought that has forced communities throughout the state to cut water use. Some rural communities have been particularly devastated as the state’s two massive water distribution systems have dramatically curtailed the amount of water made available for agriculture.
Republicans have blamed some of the cutbacks on environmental regulations designed to protect salmon populations and the threatened Delta smelt, a 3-inch-long fish that is disappearing from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. At times, state and federal officials have reduced the amount of water pumped from the Delta to prevent smelt from getting sucked into the pumps.
A bill by Republican Rep. David Valadao set for consideration Thursday would require that federal regulators maintain certain pumping levels unless the secretary of the Interior Department certifies that level would harm the long-term survival of the Delta smelt and no other alternatives to protect the smelt are available.
The 170-page bill also sets deadlines for the completion of feasibility studies to build or enlarge five dams in the state and ends efforts to build up salmon populations in the San Joaquin River.
Valadao said that Republican gains in the Senate could help the bill’s prospects. “What happens in the Senate’s still up in the air, but we do believe we’ve got some support over there,” Valadao said during a news conference with GOP leaders.
Still, it’s hard to see how House Republicans can win over enough Senate Democrats to generate a 60-vote threshold without major concessions. Environmental groups and the salmon industry have harshly criticized the bill for siphoning water from imperiled wildlife and wetlands.
The White House said it strongly opposes the bill and argued that dictating operational decisions for the state’s water distribution systems could limit water supplies. Other provisions would likely result in the resumption of costly litigation, said a statement from the Office of Management and Budget.
“Much of the bill contains provisions that have little connection to the ongoing drought,” the statement said.
Valadao countered that the administration was prioritizing an extreme environmental agenda that placed the needs of fish over people.