House passes water bill

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Hope for immediate relief in drought-stricken California now rests in the hands of the U.S. Senate, now that the House of Representatives has passed the San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act 229-191, largely along party lines, last week.

While Republicans hailed the solution as a necessary step toward putting the welfare of humans above that of the critters protected by “overreaching environmental restrictions,” Democrats decried the action as abandoning decades of progressive laws protecting Cali-fornia wildlife.

The federal debate rages after Gov. Jerry Brown’s declaration of a state of drought emergency in California. Although his announcement sparked speculation that the crisis would relax environmental restrictions as citizens and farmers in California’s Central Valley cope with California’s driest period on record, the state water agency announced that no relief is forthcoming for the 25 million affected residents.

The bill is championed by California’s GOP delegation, including Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.

He delivered a grim testimony before the House, stating, “Our water storage is near empty. Farmland is going fallow. Drinking water is threatened — the state actually says in a report that 17 communities can go dry in four months. And absent an act from God, our options are limited to ease this pain.”

McCarthy noted that as one of the top producers of produce for the nation (94 percent of tomatoes, 93 percent of broccoli, 89 percent of carrots, 78 percent of lettuce), the effects of the crisis will reach much farther than the Californians who are absorbing the primary impact.

“So that means prices will go up. But it also means you’re going to buy that produce somewhere else. You’re going to buy it oversees. Maybe China, maybe Mexico. What about the food safety? But more importantly, what about those jobs? What about those workers?”

McCarthy noted that just a few years ago unemployment in that region was as high as 40 percent. “The worst part of all this — it doesn’t have to be this way.”

He said that in 1994 Republicans and Democrats came to the Bay Delta Accord as a bipartisan solution among environmentalists, farmers and other users.

“The reason we debate this is that water is so precious. Most of the snowpack comes from the north and travels down to the south. We have a state water project that — which is a little ironic — Gov. Brown, when his father was governor, built more than 50 years ago. There have always been allocations to send it down south. This year they made history. For the first time in the history of the water project, the allocation is zero.”

McCarthy said that government regulation has changed the Delta Bay Accord. “Environmentalists have decided that fish are more important than those who are unemployed. That maybe they come before the individual. And what does that mean?”

He said that since 2007, policy changes have yielded a 2.6-million-acre-foot loss to the state water project. He said that is enough for the annual water needs for every resident of Los Angeles, New York and Chicago combined.

“Where did that water go? Out to the ocean. Why would we send it out to the ocean when we could store it for the drought that we knew would happen?” asked McCarthy.

Following House passage of the bill, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell invoked a rule to potentially speed up consideration of a similar bill in the Senate.

“We’d like to thank Leader McConnell and the Senate GOP leadership for making it easier to move this bill forward,” said a joint statement by McCarthy and Reps. David Valadao and Devin Nunes.

“In light of the urgency of California’s water crisis and the Senate’s utter inaction, this bill deserves to be debated and voted on in the Senate. Its opponents should be forced to go on the record.”

While the special rule does not ensure immediate action, it does prevent the bill from being held up in committee. If a motion to proceed is approved by a three-fifths majority, the bill moves to the floor for a vote.

Story First Published: 2014-02-12