Republican members of California's congressional delegation are tackling drought relief again with a wide-ranging bill introduced Thursday that attempts to speed up new water storage projects and move more water through river pumps for farms and cities.
The bill by Republican Congressman David Valadao of Hanford comes closer to what Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein pushed through the Senate last year, but there are also considerable differences. For example, the House bill scraps efforts to restore a Chinook salmon fishery in the San Joaquin River, which was the goal of a 2006 lawsuit settlement.
Valadao said Congress needs to act because the consequences of California's drought are spreading.
"Inaction will result in the collapse of our domestic food supply," he said.
Valadao's bill requires certain levels of pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta unless reducing water flow is necessary to ensure the long-term survival of a species. The GOP proposal moves away from past efforts that called for running California's two primary water distribution systems without taking requirements of the Endangered Species Act into account.
Environmental advocates immediately rejected the proposal and Feinstein made clear that changes would be needed to get her support.
"The drought bill introduced today in the House includes some useful provisions to increase the flexibility of water delivery as well as some provisions that would violate environmental law, which I've said many times I cannot support," Feinstein said.
California has suffered from extremely dry conditions since 2012, and the House has passed legislation in the previous two congressional sessions aimed at bringing more water to the state's agricultural belt in the Central Valley. Those measures have stalled in the Senate.
The bill requires agencies to consider alternatives to reduced pumping, such as installing temporary barriers to prevent saltwater intrusion or removing non-native fish that eat protected fish such as the delta smelt and certain salmon species.
It drew support from the California Farm Bureau Federation but the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, said the bill repackaged ideas that have repeatedly been rejected by state lawmakers and fishermen.
The group said increased water supplies should come from water recycling and improving water efficiency on farms. And NRDC argues Congress should provide temporary financial assistance to farmworkers and others displaced by the drought.
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California also criticized the House bill.
"It's unfortunate that House Republicans — with much fanfare — are rolling out a bill that is the same-old, same-old and will only reignite the water wars," Boxer said.
The bill attempts to address drought relief in other Western states by streamlining the permitting process for some water storage projects and by allowing more irrigation districts to make early repayments to the federal government for new or expanded water projects.