House Tackles California Drought On Multiple Fronts

WATER:

House tackles Calif. drought on multiple fronts

Debra Kahn, E&E reporter

Published: Monday, February 3, 2014

Congress is eyeing California’s record-breaking drought this week by reviving political hot-button issues as well as long-term infrastructure proposals.

A bill to make more water available to farmers in the Central Valley is headed to the Rules Committee tomorrow, bypassing the normal committee process after Republican backers tried and failed to insert the language into the farm bill that passed the House last week. The bill is scheduled to go to the House floor by Wednesday or Thursday, committee staff said.

Authored by three Republicans who represent the agriculture-heavy region, the “Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act,” H.R. 3964, would undo a San Joaquin River restoration program that has been the object of a court settlement and intricate compromises between state and federal officials for decades. It would cap the delivery of water for environmental purposes and would lengthen irrigation contracts and lift certain environmental protections in area watersheds, among other controversial provisions.

The legislation is similar to a bill that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) introduced in 2011, which passed the House but stalled in the Senate (E&E Daily, Jan. 30).

Fellow sponsors and California GOP Reps. David Valadao and Kevin McCarthy joined Nunes on Friday in challenging senators to approve H.R. 3964.

“Next week, I predict the House will again pass comprehensive legislation to solve California’s water crisis,” Nunes said. “Like two years ago, it will be swiftly transmitted to the Senate. I hope California’s senators take the time to read the bill and that, given the dire conditions in the state, [they] have the decency to offer their own plan in response.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who derided the Republicans’ farm bill attempt as politicking, is expected to introduce drought legislation in the Senate this week, according to her spokesman, Tom Mentzer.

Last week, she called H.R. 3964 “profoundly dangerous for California,” expressing interest in working with the sponsors on a “serious proposal” instead.

Water storage bills

The House Natural Resources Committee, meanwhile, is taking up infrastructure and permitting issues in an attempt to build more water storage projects to hold supplies over from wet years to dry ones.

The hearing Wednesday morning in the Water and Power Subcommittee will feature the “Accelerated Revenue, Repayment, and Surface Water Storage Enhancement Act,” by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), which would allow water users to repay the federal government early for long-term water contracts. The early payments would be used to fund surface water storage projects.

“If we had captured more water in California over the last five to 10 years, California would not be facing today’s dire situation,” committee staff said. “Instead, we are in a natural drought exacerbated by a man-made drought. This hearing will explore legislation to reverse that situation.”

Rep. Tom McClintock’s (R-Calif.) “Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act,” which would streamline permitting of new water storage projects on public lands, will also be heard, as will a discussion draft that would amend the Secure Water Act of 2009 to give the Interior Department $400 million annually to build surface water storage.

Schedule: The House Rules Committee hearing is on Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 3 p.m. in H-313 of the Capitol.

Schedule: The House Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee hearing is on Wednesday, Feb. 5, at 10 a.m. in 1324 Longworth.

Subcommittee hearing witnesses: Chris Hurd, farmer, Circle G Farms; Patrick O’Toole, president, Family Farm Alliance; and Stuart Somach, attorney, Somach, Simmons and Dunn.