By: SCOTT SMITH, Associated Press
A congressional committee will meet in Fresno on Wednesday, taking up California's drought crisis at the heart of the state's agricultural region.
The House Natural Resources Committee will hear testimony from Central Valley farmers, community leaders and state water officials — all grappling with the drought. The hearing at Fresno's City Hall is titled "California Water Crisis and its Impacts: The Need for Immediate and Long-Term Solutions."
"It is my hope that we will hear more about common ground and solutions that will bring more water to this Valley instead of rehashing the tired, partisan battles over California water," Rep. Jim Costa, a Democrat from Fresno who serves on the committee, said Tuesday in a statement.
California is in its third consecutive dry year. Gov. Jerry Brown in January declared a drought emergency, and in February President Barack Obama visited to see the crisis firsthand, delivering millions in relief aid.
Water officials said Tuesday that February delivered promising rain, but they predict having to dramatically cut back on the water that farmers receive from a pair of vast systems of canals, reservoirs and dams operated by state and federal authorities. Many Central Valley farmers say they will leave fields unplanted.
The Natural Resources Committee has 47 members. A fraction of members are expected to attend, including Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, who chairs the committee, along with Costa and Rep. Tom McClintock.
In advance of the hearing Tuesday, several California Republicans in Congress sent a letter to Obama and Brown urging them to use their powers to help farmers and communities hit hardest by the drought. Strict regulations aimed at protecting endangered fish allowed 445,000 acre-feet of water from February rains to be lost into the ocean, the letter said.
California's rainy season typically ends by April, said the letter signed by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, who was among 13 to sign the letter.
"Given that communities in Central and Southern California are struggling to meet water needs and farmers are fallowing hundreds of thousands of acres of land that feed our state and country," the letter said, "loss of this water is absolutely unacceptable."