Congress leaves town without agreement on drought legislation

via NOAA

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Congress adjourned on Thursday and won't return to Washington until Nov. 12, and California lawmakers are coming home to wildfires, record high temperatures, and to a state without rain -- reminders that members haven't reached a compromise on a drought bill. 

However, all sides are still talking. California Democrat Barbara Boxer, who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the “delicate negotiations” are continuing – even on Sundays. Details have been lacking on both sides, but before leaving town, a pair of California lawmakers offered insight into the sticking points.

Boxer says she wants what’s in Senator Dianne Feinstein’s bill – flexibility but no harm to the fishermen who depend on flows to move salmon to the sea. 

The Feinstein bill is limited to years when the governor declares a state-of-drought emergency, allowing a "maximum quantity of water supplies possible" to move south, consistent with "applicable" - i.e. environmental - laws.

Congressman Jim Costa of Fresno - the only California Democrat to vote for the Republican House version of the drought bill - wants that flexibility to include increased water flows to farmers. 

Costa said he's been going round and round with NOAA - the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - over rainfall models and how they'd affect water flows to the Central Valley. He said under current operations, in years with an average rainfall year, with average snowpack in the Sierras, there's zero water allocation to the San Joaquin Valley.

"That’s devastating, that’s unacceptable," he said, adding that Central Valley lawmakers are trying to convince the administration that "there’s a crisis at hand and they can do something about it."

The White House has yet to weigh in on the environmental costs of increasing water to the Central Valley. Lawmakers remain optimistic they’ll be able to find an acceptable compromise by the end of the lame-duck session.