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House GOP schedules water bill for vote

House Republican leaders have scheduled a vote next week for an emergency water bill offered by Central Valley Republicans.

The controversial legislation – H.R. 3964, Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act, introduced by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford – is being rushed through on account of California’s severe drought. But the bill would be the biggest reform of California water policy in decades, and has met with harsh criticism from the state’s Democrats.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, issued a statement Friday saying Central Valley farmers and families were dealt a blow earlier in the day when the California Department of Water Resources reduced State Water Project allocations from 5 percent to zero; the reduction followed a finding on Thursday that the state’s snowpack is at only 12 percent of normal for this time of year.

“Today’s action is a stark reminder that California’s drought is real,” Gov. Jerry Brown of the allocation reduction. “We’re taking every possible step to prepare the state for the continuing dry conditions we face.”

But McCarthy said “the pressure this decision puts on the already dangerously low reservoirs and groundwater banks is unsustainable,” and HR 3964 “is a responsible answer to the hardship the Central Valley is currently facing. I thank Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor, and Chairman Hastings for appreciating the urgency of this matter and scheduling a vote on this bill next week.”

He noted Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., oppose the House bill.

“Perhaps more disturbing is their failure of leadership in offering a solution of their own to bring Central Valley communities new or additional water,” McCarthy said. “As the House acts on Rep. Valadao’s legislation next week, I urge Governor Brown to use his authority to immediately direct state agencies to relax current state environmental regulations in the delta to ensure any water that does move down the Sacramento River ultimately flows to Kern County and Central California. Absent immediate action, California farmers and communities will continue to be gripped by the damaging effects of the worst drought in a century.”

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, on Thursday had blasted the Republcians’ bill as “a political ploy in an election year that does nothing to solve the devastating drought facing the state.

“If enacted, the bill would overturn six decades of California state water and environmental law, tear up long standing contracts between the state, federal government, and water districts, and ignore the California Constitution’s public trust doctrine. This would create massive confusion and environmental damage to all California’s rivers, the Delta, and San Francisco Bay,” Garamendi charged. “This bill hurts Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike by threatening the livelihoods of farmers, fishermen, and small businesses throughout the state. We cannot throw away years of water management experience for the sake of scoring a few political points.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.