Congress conflicts on CA drought

Despite substantial labors on both sides of the aisle, legislators in the House and the Senate alike have failed to agree on a drought relief package for California, deepening a dispute over where water should flow that seems to have no end in sight.

Dueling bills

In Washington, D.C., Golden State lawmakers have struggled to push a bill through Congress. Last month, Rep. John Garamendi, “whose district abuts 200 miles of the Sacramento River,” had introduced legislation “that would specifically align with Proposition 1, the water bond recently passed by California voters,” the Woodland Daily Democrat reported. “This would allow federal, state and local agencies to coordinate on the implementation of the projects funded and authorized by the bill.” 

Previously, the paper noted, Sen. Dianne Feinstein had “proposed legislation to provide drought relief, but faced so much opposition that she pulled her support.” But Garamendi’s bill in the House, which was identical to Feinstein’s latest effort, drew immediate fire from within his own party; “eight Bay Area Democrats, along with members from Oregon and Washington, released a statement saying they have major concerns with the bills,” the Los Angeles Times reported. House Republicans had passed a bill written by GOP Rep. David Valadao, but, as Feinstein suggested, that piece of legislation would fare poorly in the Senate. Unfortunately for Feinstein, however, the Members attacking the Garamendi bill also announced their opposition to reconciling the House Valadao bill with Feinstein’s in the Senate: “any legislation that emerges from a conference would not be acceptable to many of the diverse stakeholders in our home states,” they concluded, according to the Times. 

Different approaches

The Valadao bill would not go down to defeat for lack of trying. Republicans “successfully put key pieces of Valadao’s bill into an energy bill, to get it into conference negotiations with the Senate — over the objections of nearly all of the state’s Democrats,” as The Hill observed. Valadao’s bill would set “minimum pumping volumes and new standards for when endangered species concerns can override pumping — something the Democrats say amounts to gutting the law.” By contrast, “Feinstein’s bill doesn’t dictate volumes, but gives federal officials more flexibility in how they make water and species decisions.”

Nevertheless, Feinstein did fill the legislation with big budget items. “It authorizes $1.3 billion for desalination, water recycling, storage and grants,” as McClatchy noted. “The money provided includes $600 million for projects that could include constructing Temperance Flat or Sites Reservoir, in the Sacramento Valley, and raising Shasta Dam.”

But the first hearing her bill encountered largely served only to spotlight the intractable differences between water’s opposing camps. “The Senate subcommittee hearing itself, while laying the procedural foundation for legislation to advance, did nothing to resolve any of the conflicts,” McClatchy went on. “No more than one or two senators on the 13-member committee were generally present during the hearing, and of some 18 questions asked of the witnesses, only two touched on California.”

Presidential posturing

While Donald Trump flatly declared “there is no drought” at a recent Fresno rally, the Democrats’ own presidential contenders have failed to do much better on the California campaign trail. “Bernie Sanders’ campaign did not respond to repeated requests for the candidate’s position on California water issues,” as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, while Hillary Clinton’s camp merely referred to a prior response she had “made to a Southern California television reporter asking whether she thinks more water should be sent from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farms and cities in the south.”

Neither Democrat, however, has shied away from making broad promises. “Both Sanders and Clinton have proposed hundreds of billions of dollars in new infrastructure spending that could update the West’s water systems, as well as aggressive plans to battle climate change, which intensifies Western droughts,” the paper added. 

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