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Government & Politics

House Republicans Pass Drought Water Bill

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Joe Moore
/
Valley Public Radio
file photo

A bill that aims to deliver more water to San Joaquin Valley farms has passed the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

The Western Water and American Food Security Act would change the way the government manages both water in the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta and threatened species. Supporters say it would allow more water to be captured from early season storms, while still protecting the environment.

Valley Republican David Valadao authored the bill. He says existing regulations not only hurt farmers, they also aren't helping fish.

Valadao: “ Preventing us from pumping water and not using good science and good mechanisms to protect the species, is an enormous problem and it has to be solved, and we feel and we feel that we do take care of that in the bill.”

While the new bill doesn't go as far as previous efforts that would have altered the Endangered Species Act, its scope is wide ranging and in some cases controversial. Among the more contentious provisions is one that would alter the San Joaquin River settlement agreement and end the effort to bring back long extinct salmon runs to the river. Instead, it would work to establish a warm water fishery on the restored river. That, as well as changes in Delta management have drawn opposition from environmental groups. 

Doug Obegi is a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Obegi: “The bill that was passed by the house today really doesn’t provide a lot of water for anybody, but it does gut protections for fish and wildlife and the thousands of fishing jobs in the communities that depend on them.”

It’s now up to the Senate to take up its own water legislation, and hammer out any differences in conference committee. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein issued a statement with a mixed response to the bill’s passage, praising some provisions but saying others would violate environmental law.

Feinstein: "The House today passed a drought bill that included some useful short-term provisions as well as some provisions that would violate environmental law. While I cannot support the bill as passed, I remain hopeful we can come to an agreement that can advance through both chambers."

Earlier this week President Obama announced that he strongly opposes the bill and threatened a veto, saying it would impede the current response to the drought and threaten protected species.

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