• Watch here: C-SPAN: House Water Bill Debate video
• San Francisco Op-Ed: Feinstein’s efforts disappointingly undemocratic
By Lois Kazakoff on December 8, 2014 6:06 PM
Just days after promising to bring highly controversial water legislation to the Senate through “regular order” in January, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., appears poised to ram through a bill in the last days of the session without public hearings and widespread debate. The bill, as written, imposes federal rules on pumping levels that would undermine protections for fish and wildlife for the benefit of agribusiness. Farmers gain, salmon and Pacific Coast salmon fisherman and tribes that depend on the salmon, lose.
This breaks a promise Feinstein made in November after an earlier version of the bill was derailed when Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., withdrew her support. Sen. Feinstein’s efforts are disturbingly undemocratic and affect our most significant and scarcest resource — water.
The bill, the Emergency California Drought Relief Act, will not end the drought. It will not produce more rain or make more water. It does not address the emergency — the state and federal government have tried to do that by assisting communities that have lost jobs because of the drought. It simply takes water from Northern California farms, lands and fish and gives it to Southern California farms and cities.
If passed in its current form, the bill will harm San Francisco Bay, take water from the struggling salmon runs that support the Pacific Coast fishing industry, and interfere with the freshwater flows that Sacramento Valley farmers depend on to keep saltwater from infiltrating their fields.
Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford (Kings County), introduced a new version of his HR5781 on Dec. 2. The House debated it Monday, even though the chamber was not originally scheduled to be in session. A vote is scheduled for Tuesday. If it passes, then Sen. Dianne Feinstein is expected to bring it before the Senate for a vote. Without time left in the session for public hearings and debate, there is no promised “regular order.” And there clearly was no intention to wait until the new year.
Feinstein’s office released this statement Monday: “There are parts of the House bill introduced last week that I support, including provisions from legislation unanimously passed by the Senate in May and other provisions that were agreed upon over the past few months through bipartisan negotiation.
“But there are several other provisions that would waive environmental protections that need to be changed before I could support them. I have said all along that I will not support a bill that would waive these protections, and that remains true today.
“I believe that we’re making progress toward a bipartisan bill. It’s my hope that we’ll reach agreement on legislation that can pass both the House and the Senate and enact a bill that moves water to Californians suffering from the drought and helps all of the state while not waiving environmental protections.”
Valadao, and other San Joaquin Valley Republicans, represent large agricultural water users who have secondary rights to water and seek to increase the amount and the certainty of water allocated to them — something all drought-weary Californians would like. Valadao’s bill seeks to impose federal rules that would override state protocols worked out over decades to protect all California water users — the cities, the farms and the environment. This adds another layer of complexity to already complex water decisions and opens the door to increased litigation that would harm small farmers, fishermen and tribes. The Obama administration has warned the president would veto the bill, should it pass the Senate.
Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, a water warrior who has fought for decades to balance the state’s water needs among fish, farms and cities, noted on the House floor Monday that water policy is better than it has been in the past because it developed through open hearings.
“The idea that you can just go into a room in the 11th hour because you know the session is ending, and you are going to say, ‘we have greater merit than anybody else, we are going to change this law,’ that is not the democratic process,” he said.
“That is not the proper representation of the people we represent in the State of California, and it is absolutely contrary to what the state government has done and accomplished, what they have done and accomplished with the federal agencies, to try and make this work recognizing the incredible hardship that every region in our state is under.”
California and Congress has serious work to do to refashion our water policies and laws to promote greater efficiency and conservation. Legislation whose purpose is to take water from one to give it to another — to the detriment of all of California — is misguided. The senator should abandon her efforts now.