Democrats Block GOP Efforts on Calif Drought Relief

Wednesday, 12 Feb 2014 07:29 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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California’s drought — and possible temporary remedies — is proving to be yet another issue about which Democrats and Republicans can’t agree, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The politics of water have coursed its way to Washington, where last week the Republican-led House of Representatives passed legislation that would temporarily exempt the state and federal water-delivery systems there and allow for more water for farmers and municipalities in California’s Central Valley.

Specifically, one of the exemptions would include allowing those water-delivery systems from adhering to provisions of the Endangered Species Act, an issue that has Democrats in an uproar.

The measure passed the House 229 to 191, largely on Republican votes, but is not expected to pass the Democrat-led Senate.

One of the bill’s sponsors, GOP Rep. David Valadao, "said his measure was urgently needed because of an impending cutoff of state and federal supplies to farmers," according to The Journal.

"On Jan. 31, the California Department of Water Resources took the unprecedented step of announcing the possibility of completely halting distribution of state water supplies this year to 25 million urban customers and nearly a million acres of agricultural land."

Proponents of the GOP legislation say it would help alleviate the drought by allowing federal and state authorities to pump more water out of the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta.

But opponents, mostly Democrats, call the bill "a water grab that would circumvent state law, pit water users against each other, and roll back environmental protections," Reuters reported when the bill passed the House last week.

"This is the greatest intrusion into state water rights that we've seen in this legislature," said Democratic Rep. George Miller, whose California district includes the cities of Concord and Richmond, east of San Francisco.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill, arguing it would not alleviate California's drought problems and would only disrupt "decades of work done to address water challenges in the most populous U.S. state."

The administration is asking for "a more balanced approach," though in a statement indicated the door to the Senate bill would remain open.

"We're encouraged by progress in the Senate on efforts to ease the pain caused by the drought," a White House spokesman said. "We look forward to continuing to work with the bill's sponsors and other members of Congress as the process moves forward."

Farmers in California's Central Valley depend on federally controlled water for most of their supply. Without it, those farmers and communities would have to turn to low groundwater reserves, or get water from neighboring districts.

On Jan. 31, The Los Angeles Times reported that the for the first time in its 54-year history, the State Water Project, which helps supply a majority of Californians with water, may be unable to make deliveries except to maintain public health and safety.

It’s about holding back water so we’ve got it tomorrow," Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham told The Times.

California leads the nation in produce production and is the second-largest producer of livestock behind Texas, according to net.state.com


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