Politics, government and public life for Southern California

California farmers urge Congress to act on drought bills

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More than a thousand California farmers sent a letter to the state's Congressional delegation this week, urging lawmakers from both parties to work together on drought legislation to “address the water supply crisis.”

But a veteran of California’s water wars says the letter is actually a not-so-veiled message from lobbyists for Central Valley agribusiness.

In the letter sent to California Senators and House members, members of the California Water Alliance say reservoirs are empty, groundwater is becoming depleted, and what happens this year will “fundamentally change the face of California’s agriculture forever.”

Last month, the House passed a water measure that rewrites California water agreements and preempts environmental restoration projects. California Democrat Dianne Feinstein introduced a Senate drought bill that makes it easier for federal agencies to move water around the state, but still adheres to environmental laws. No hearing or vote has been scheduled for the Senate bill.

While not explicitly endorsing any legislation, the letter echoes the same arguments made by California Republicans, who collectively co-sponsored the House bill. The farmers blame “short-sighted and unbalanced application of environmental regulations” for the lack of water from the state and federal water projects.

Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, which distributed the letter, says the House bill presents “long term solutions,”  while the Feinstein measure addresses “dire” short-term needs. Wade says what’s needed is a comprehensive bill “that sort of does both.”

The letter says farmers have “different views” about the particulars, but agree that Congress has to come together on a single bill that can become  law within the next few weeks. “That’s your job,” they write.

Democratic Congressman George Miller of California, who wrote the last major piece of water legislation back in 1992, dismisses the letter from what he calls “lobbyists for southern valley agribusiness.” He says the drought can’t be solved by “grabbing an unfair share of water from one dry region to send it to another dry region.”

Miller says in California today, there's simply not enough water to supply all of the demands that have been promised to people.

Senator Feinstein’s office says “efforts continue” to move the Senate bill forward. Miller says interested parties have been speaking with the Senator's office about "real concerns" from northern Californians concerning some provisions in her bill. 

House members will continue pressuring the Senate to take action. Hanford Republican David Valadao, who sponsored the House drought bill, says the Feinstein measure "deserves to be debated and voted on in the Senate. Only then may the House and Senate go to Conference on the two pieces of legislation so that a solution can be reached for the Central Valley and the entire state."

The House Natural Resources Committee will take Congress on the road, holding a March 19th hearing in Fresno to discuss and examine the California drought.

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