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California House Democrats oppose water bill that favors Central Valley farmers

An irrigation canal is left dry on April 19, 2009 near Tranquility, California.
An irrigation canal is left dry on April 19, 2009 near Tranquility, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

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House Democrats from California are attacking a water bill that favors some farmers in the Central Valley. They called their own witnesses to testify against a bill by Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of Tulare.

HR 1837 would set aside a nearly two-decade old California agreement that restores fisheries by boosting water to the San Joaquin River and the Sacramento Delta. It exempts farms west of the San Joaquin from contributing water; the rest of the state has to make up the difference.

Congressman John Garamendi says the measure kicks off a water war. "California has a long history of powerful organizations and people stealing water," he says, "and here we go one more time, this time with the Westlands Water District stealing from the existing water rights holders."

Garamendi says it's a states' rights issue. "Every conservative in this nation should be concerned about this bill because they care about states' rights. Yet this legislation would overturn states rights in one of the most important areas of all: water."

The manager of the water agency in Stockton testified that it’s been federal policy for more than a century to follow state water laws.

Congressman Nunes didn’t attend the hearing, but Republican Tom McClintock did. He chairs the House Water and Power Subcommittee.

McClintock dismissed testimony by experts invited by Democrats. "Simply repeating points that have already been debunked by earlier testimony does not add to their weight."

The Nunes measure is headed for a summer vote. It’ll face stiff opposition in the Senate from California’s two Democratic senators.