Despite its passage in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week, HR 5781, the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014, is not expected to be acted upon by the Senate, effectively ending hope of federal legislation impacting the current water year. The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), was passed by the House on a 230-182 vote. In addition to unanimous support by Republican members, Democrat Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) and five other Democrats voted in favor of HR 5781. The bill, a dramatically scaled-down version of draft legislation negotiated by House Republicans and Senator Dianne Feinstein, would have provided temporary relief to San Joaquin Valley cities and farms suffering from regulatory actions that prevent storm runoff from being conveyed and stored south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Western Growers staff in Washington, D.C. and California are engaged with members of both parties to push for approval of the bill, as well as the negotiated larger package. Prospects for the bill’s approval by the Senate in the short time left before the 113th Congress adjourns dimmed as Senator Barbara Boxer declared her strong opposition to the bill and Senator Feinstein, while expressing interest in passing a bill, identified several provisions that she would not support. In addition, the Brown Administration this week added its opposition to the bill, with Natural Resources Secretary John Laird claiming that HR 5781 would “reignite water wars, move water policy back into the courts, and try to pit one part of the state against another.”
Western Growers is deeply disappointed in the failure of the Valadao legislation. We recognize the fact that compromise is necessary if we are to restore common sense in the way the state and federal water projects are operated in the Delta. In that spirit, HR 5781 was a very limited emergency measure that would have only temporarily provided growers in the Central Valley some measure of security and assurance. However, the failure of HR 5781 is solely attributable to the absolute resistance to any compromise on the part of environmental groups and their political allies. Rather than come up with a single constructive idea, these groups did their best over the last few weeks to muddy the record with distorted facts, both during the negotiations on the larger bill and now with the scaled down legislation. The farmers and families of the San Joaquin Valley have compromised, and have been compromised, by repeated actions of Congress, the courts and regulatory agencies for the last 20 years. Unfortunately, the current water year – which has already produced healthy storm runoff into, and out of, the Delta – will unfold without badly needed congressional direction to the federal and state agencies influencing daily operations. Moving forward, in addition to focusing on renewed legislative efforts when the new Congress convenes in January, Western Growers staff will be working with federal and state legislators and officials to use all available legal discretion to capture as much available runoff as possible before it is allowed to flow out to sea. The opportunity is now. The massive storm moving across California will produce major flood flows into the Delta. The question is whether federal and state regulators will act to capture as much as possible before it goes out to sea.
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