POLITICS: PennAve

House passes California drought relief bill

By |
Congress,House of Representatives,California,PennAve,Sean Lengell,Energy and Environment,Drought

The House on Wednesday passed a controversial emergency drought-relief bill to help farmers in California's Central Valley, despite White House opposition.

The bill would divert water from the San Joaquin River to farms, homes and businesses — a move opposed by the Obama administration and environmentalists largely because it would halt an ongoing project designed to protect salmon and other fish.

The river restoration project has caused fierce battles spanning years that have pitted farmers in need of irrigation water against groups pushing to bring the river's salmon runs back to historic levels.

The Republican-controlled chamber passed the bill 229-191, with the tally mostly along party lines. But the measure stands little chance of surviving the Democratic-run Senate.

"The Central Valley supplies America with an abundance of fruit and vegetable crops, but it is now turning into a man-made dust bowl," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who visited the valley last month.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a leading proponent of the bill whose district includes the Central Valley, said absent immediate action, California farmers and communities will continue to suffer the effects of one of the region's worst droughts on record.

"I hope California’s senators take the time to read the bill and that, given the dire conditions in the state, have the decency to offer their own plan in response," he said. "Inaction is not an option."

But the White House has threatened to veto the measure, saying it wouldn't do enough to alleviate the region's water woes and instead would disrupt decades of work and planning to address the problem.

"The urgency and seriousness of the situation requires a balanced approach that promotes water reliability and ecosystem restoration," an administration statement said.

The White House said the bill would exacerbate water shortages in the Central Valley by repealing water-pricing schemes that provide incentives for contractors to conserve water supplies.

The administration also says the bill would reject the "long-standing principle that beneficiaries should pay both the cost of developing water supplies and of mitigating resulting development impacts."

California is poised for its worst drought in a century, unless significant rain falls within the next two months.

The San Joaquin River starts in the Sierra Nevada, east of Fresno, and collects at the Friant Dam into Millerton Lake. It flows a few miles after the dam but dries up before reaching the Pacific Ocean. The river resumes downstream with water from the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers, which each have salmon populations. The river's restoration is estimated to cost $1 billion in federal funds.

Meanwhile Wednesday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Natural Resources Conservation Service said it would allocate $14 million for water management improvements in California, a day after Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack committed an additional $20 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

View article comments Leave a comment

More from washingtonexaminer.com