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Capitol Hill focuses on California drought: more water wars

Now in its third straight year of drought conditions, California is experiencing its driest year on record.
Now in its third straight year of drought conditions, California is experiencing its driest year on record.
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California’s drought is front and center in the House of Representatives. A bill co-sponsored by the entire California Republican delegation will be voted on this week. It would set aside environmental laws to ensure the flow of water to Central Valley farmers.

In this, one of the driest years on record, Central Valley lawmakers – with the support of the entire GOP delegation – are pushing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act.

The measure would restore a 1994 Bay-Delta Accord and throw out the 2009 Obama administration ruling that required water be set aside for salmon and the Delta smelt under the Endangered Species Act. The bill would repeal a restoration project for the San Joaquin River designed to bring back salmon and place a cap on the amount of water designated for environmental projects. It would also restore 40-year water contracts for Central Valley farmers and ensures their renewal. A 1992 irrigation measure put a cap of a quarter-century on water contracts — with no guarantee of renewal.

Hanford Congressman David Valadao, the bill’s author, says,”Congress cannot make it rain, but they can provide relief from burdensome environmental regulations.”

Democrats vow to stop the measure. Congressman John Garamendi of Fairfield, a pear farmer and cattle rancher, says the measure would “overturn six decades of California state water and environmental law,” and tear up long standing contracts between the state, federal government and water districts. Garamendi has his own water proposal, but it’s going nowhere in the GOP-led House.

The GOP water measure is similar to a measure sponsored by Tulare Congressman Devin Nunes two years ago that passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

House Speaker John Boehner came to California last month to call attention to the new bill, which will likely pass in the House.

But it will once again find stiff opposition in the Senate, led by California’s two Senators. Barbara Boxer, who heads the Environment and Public Works Committee, is concerned the bill would start another water war. She calls it “another divisive, unfair and discredited proposal designed to score political points instead of addressing this unprecedented drought."

The House vote comes in an election year, just four months before Central Valley constituents cast ballots in the June primary.