Obama visit brings flood of drought commentary

With President Obama soon to arrive in California for drought-related visits to Firebaugh and Los Banos, lots of politicos and stakeholders are weighing in about the state’s crisis.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., issued a statement praising executive-order relief measures that the Obama administration announced today, including $100 million in livestock disaster aid for California ranchers, $60 million for California food banks to help families affected by the drought, and other measures to promote conservation and help rural communities suffering water shortages.

“I applaud the President for coming to California during this very difficult drought, and I thank him for moving so quickly to provide relief for our state,” Boxer said.

But, from House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield:

“As President Obama visits California this afternoon to introduce an initiative to spend millions of dollars as part of his solution to California’s drought that has been exacerbated by federal and state regulations, House Republicans are continuing to work to find a bipartisan, bicameral solution to ensure our communities are not crippled by future droughts. Last week, the House passed H.R. 3964, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act, by a bipartisan vote of 229-191. I urge Majority Leader Harry Reid to put this legislation on the Senate floor for a vote as soon as possible.

“Earlier this week, California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer introduced their own legislation on California water policy. After two House-passed bills and two Congresses, this development is welcomed, but long overdue.

“In the spirit of Californians working together to bring solutions to the President’s desk, I believe that there are components of the Senate bill that can be further discussed and explored. The federal government can do more to deliver water to our southern California communities by keeping the Delta Cross Channel Gates open, increasing pumping at Old and Middle Rivers, setting a 1-to-1 flow in the San Joaquin River for water transfers, and authorizing the drilling of wells in refuges.

“And most importantly, there is growing consensus that direction to federal and state agencies to maximize water supplies is the underlying issue that must be addressed. Unfortunately, without substantive changes to burdensome environmental regulations, the well-being of fish will continue to be placed ahead of the well-being of our central and southern California communities that rely on critical water supplies to survive. And as a result, our farmers will still be left paying for water allocations that they are not receiving.

“Our communities cannot afford rhetorical battles in this time of drought. Already, the actions taken by the House have resulted in the Senate putting forth their plan after years of inaction. When Majority Leader Reid decides to put California water legislation on the Senate floor for a vote and Senators Feinstein and Boxer work to ensure its passage, I look forward to coming together to find areas of common ground and commonsense to finally achieve a solution that our state is so desperately in need of. It remains to be seen if our Senate colleagues are willing to cross the aisle and acknowledge that a their-way-or-the-highway position is not feasible.”

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Obama to visit Fresno next Friday about drought

This just in from the White House:

“On Friday, February 14, President Obama will travel to the Fresno, California area to discuss ongoing efforts to respond to the severe drought. Further details on the President’s trip to California will be available in the coming days.”

As reported here last week, President Obama promised Gov. Jerry Brown that he’s committed to providing the necessary federal support to state and local drought mitigation efforts. And as I reported Tuesday, the president is no fan of the water bill that Republicans pushed through the House this week as a drought solution.


House passes GOP water/drought bill

The House voted 229-191 on Wednesday to pass the controversial water bill put forth by Republicans as a necessity for dealing with California’s drought, but described by Democrats as a water grab and political ploy.

“While Californians are dealing with the brunt of the water shortage, this issue affects the entire country,” Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, the bill’s author, said in a news release. “I am proud the House of Representatives was able to come together to pass this common-sense legislation to provide a long-term solution for families and farmers suffering from this water crisis. It is now up to the Senators from California to ensure their Chamber acts upon our proposal quickly.”

Said House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, “It is unacceptable that vital water supplies are being forced out to the ocean instead of going to our cities. The issue demands immediate attention and today’s vote represents House Republicans’ commitment to putting California families over fish.”

But though sponsored by all the rest of California’s House Republicans, Valadao’s H.R. 3964 is as good as dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer plan to introduce a bill of their own in the next few days.

Feinstein said their bill will “offer relief for California and other drought-stricken states and to streamline federal projects and operations. We have worked with federal and state agencies, rural irrigation districts and urban water districts to draft legislation that will minimize controversy yet still maximize water supplies during this drought period. California is facing a 500-year drought, and the time to act is now.”

Said Boxer, “While House Republicans are pursuing divisive and discredited policies, we will be proposing solutions that will help bring relief to the communities hardest hit by this unprecedented drought.”

Fourteen California House Democrats – including the greater Bay Area’s George Miller, D-Martinez; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael – issued a joint statement after the bill was passed:

All of California is in drought, but instead of working together on a long-term, bipartisan solution, our Republican colleagues have brought a bill to the floor today without any markup or hearing, which bypasses any public input. If enacted into law, this water grab would hurt California’s economy, damage our environment, and set a dangerous precedent of Congress imposing mandates on the water supplies of the states. This bill benefits a small group of Californians and creates no new water in the region. We have received letters from our home state’s Governor, Natural Resources Secretary, and Attorney General in strong opposition to H.R. 3964. The Western States Water Council opposed last Congress’ version of this bill (H.R. 1837) for its preemption of states’ rights, and the Obama Administration opposes the bill because it fails to alleviate the effects of California’s current drought and threatens water agreements in the west. 80 California sportsmen’s groups, commercial fishing industry groups, national conservation organizations, and Indian tribes also oppose this bill. This bill has no chance of enactment, and it would create more litigation over water if it were to pass, but even as a failed bill it hinders collaborative efforts being made throughout the State. It is time for real solutions; H.R. 3964 is not it.

Thompson gave of the more pointed floor speeches, saying “it would be more productive for this body to join in a rain dance on the floor today than to pass this bill.”


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.”


Obama calls Jerry Brown for drought update

This just in from the White House:

Today, the President called Governor Jerry Brown to receive an update on the situation in California and express his concern for the citizens impacted by the historic drought conditions facing the state – conditions that are likely to have significant impacts on the state’s communities, economy and environment in the coming months.

The President reinforced his commitment to providing the necessary federal support to the state and local efforts. The agencies are working together to target resources to help California and other impacted states prepare for and lessen the impacts of the drought. USDA is also working with farmers and ranchers to increase their irrigation water efficiency, protect vulnerable soils from erosion, and improve the health of pasture and range lands. And the Bureau of Reclamation is working closely with federal and California state authorities to facilitate water transfers and provide operational flexibility to convey and store available water, and facilitate additional actions that can conserve and move water to critical areas.

The National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP) will help coordinate the federal response, working closely with state, local government, agriculture and other partners. The NDRP is already helping to enhance existing efforts that federal agencies are working on with communities, businesses, farmers and ranchers to build resilience where drought is currently an issue across the country.

The President made clear that we will continue to work with our federal partners, including FEMA, to support the state and local response, and expressed his support during this challenging time.