CA GOP cheers federal support for new water bills

by James Poulos | March 9, 2017 3:46 pm


Central California residents, long hoping for federal water reform, have begun to see some movement from Washington. 

Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., has rolled out language designed to “build on last year’s legislation that was loved by farmers and loathed by environmentalists,” as McClatchy reported[1]. “The bill scales back an ambitious San Joaquin River restoration program, speeds completion of California dam feasibility studies and locks in certain water deliveries to Sacramento Valley irrigation districts, among other things. Parts of the bill would not have been accepted by the Obama administration, but the Trump team is different.”

“Valadao put the ball back in play on the first day of the new Congress, the start of his third term representing a district that spans Kings County and portions of Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties,” the wire added. “Thirteen House co-sponsors joined him on a 125-page bill dubbed the Gaining Responsibility on Water Act.”

“With that leadership including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, relatively expeditious House action could happen even in the face of resistance from Northern California lawmakers. The Senate, as always, will be much trickier, with California’s freshman Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris still building her staff and formulating the role she wants to play.”

Rain pain

Soaked from a surprisingly intense rainy season, the state’s attitude toward water has had to shift accordingly after years spent struggling with severe drought. Years of inattention to problems associated with a surge of rain, rather than a deficit, have led to costly embarrassments. “California faces an estimated $50 billion price tag for roads, dams and other infrastructure threatened by floods such as the one that severely damaged Oroville Dam last month,” the Associated Press reported[2]. 

“Damage to California’s highways is estimated at nearly $600 million. More than 14,000 people in San Jose were forced to evacuate last month and floods shut down a portion of a major freeway. In the Yosemite Valley, only one of three main routes into the national park’s major attraction is open because of damage or fear the roads could give out from cracks and seeping water, rangers said. On central California’s rain-soaked coast, a bridge in Big Sur has crumbled beyond repair, blocking passage on the north-south Highway 1 through the tourist destination for up to a year.”

But for farmers and Southern Californians, who need sometimes wasted Northern California rain to alleviate their still relatively parched conditions, insult has been added to infrastructure injury: “While the northern half of the state is looking good, its central and southern portions — harder hit by the drought — are still struggling,” CropLife noted[3]. “At presstime on the Central Coast, one key reservoir was 80 percent full — at the height of the drought it had fallen to 30 percent; another has reached 28 percent of capacity, up from a low of 6 percent.” 

More bipartisanship

Although California’s GOP delegation to Congress has been able to better position itself as more responsive to thirsty Golden Staters than Sacramento Democrats, they haven’t been alone in crafting new legislation. At least one bipartisan effort has come together. “On Friday, Northern California Representatives Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., and John Garamendi, D-Calif., announced the introduction of H.R. 1269, which will accelerate the federal review of Sites Reservoir and better position the project for funding under Proposition 1, the voter-approved California water bond designed to make the state’s water systems more resilient,” Lake County News observed[4]. “The bill also authorizes the federal government to participate in construction of the project should it be found feasible.”

At the end of his term in office, outgoing president Barack Obama signed landmark water legislation supported by California Republicans in the House and by Sen. Feinstein but vociferously opposed by retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer. “In a nod to criticism by California Sen. Barbara Boxer and other Democrats, Obama said in a statement that ‘I interpret and understand’ the new law to ‘require continued application and implementation of the Endangered Species Act,'” as KQED recalled[5]. That bill rerouted more water from the Delta and the San Francisco Bay into the state’s interior and south. 

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