News Feature | February 12, 2014

California Drought Subject Of Controversial Bill

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

House lawmakers approved a controversial bill to take action against the California drought, passing GOP-backed legislation in a party-line vote last week. 

The legislation "would permanently reallocate water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to Central Valley farms and halt efforts to restore flows along the full course of the San Joaquin," according to an analysis in the San Francisco Chronicle.

To do that, "it would roll back federal environmental protections, halt restoration of the San Joaquin River's flow and salmon habitat, and pre-empt various state water and endangered-species laws. The bill is co-sponsored by every California House Republican," according to the San Jose Mercury News.

The Obama administration threatened to veto the bill, according to Reuters. It said the legislation could "undermine years of collaboration between local, state, and federal stakeholders to develop a sound water quality control plan for the Bay-Delta," Reuters said. 

The bill faces major opposition. Critics say it "would give more water to farmers at the expense of the environment," according to the News. Specifically, opponents say "the bill would override protections for salmon and the endangered delta smelt, which Republicans mock as a useless minnow that is endangering farmers," according to the Chronicle. It is seen as a "political attack on river and fish restorations," the piece said. 

Democrats are labeling the move as a "water grab," the News said. They are painting it as a "political power play that undermines years of delicate negotiations."

Republicans see the effort as a pragmatic way to help agriculture and combat the effects of the harsh California drought. 

In introducing the bill, California Rep. David Valadao, said constituents "are suffering from drought conditions severely exacerbated by erroneous federal regulations. Families and farmers alike are not receiving the water they need to meet their basic, everyday needs," according to the News

President Obama is planning to visit California on Friday, the Chronicle reported.

'"Environmental groups said Monday that they are concerned that President Obama will get a one-sided view of California’s drought when he visits Fresno," the report said.

How bad is Golden State's dry spell? Mother Jones reported this week that "scientists believe that this year may end up being the driest in the last half millennium."

For more legislative news, check out Water Online's Drinking Water Regulations And Legislation Solution Center

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