New Drought Discussions, Actions Pick Up In Congress
Congress has had a lot to say, but has remained significantly divided, about possible ways to deal with California’s water crisis. There are signs the situation may be changing.
Friant Water Authority directors weighed in during their February 27 meeting in Visalia on what they believe needs to be accomplished.
During a telephone conversation directors had with John Watts, Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CALIFORNIA), Kent Stephens, Kern Tulare Water District President and a FWA director, stressed the importance for all sides in Congress to knuckle down and find solutions, and “back off all the nonsense.”
Watts was reporting to the board on a Senate bill Feinstein has backed that includes provisions far removed from a recently-passed House measure sponsored by Representative David Valadao (R-HANFORD) and favored by Republicans.
He said the Senator met with Valadao in late February and is “entirely willing to sit down with House members.” Watts said Feinstein’s concern is that if efforts are made to try to do too much, a bill will not emerge this spring. “We’re concerned with the time constraints,” Watts said. “We need to get a bill passed in a couple of months.”
‘WE HAVE TO HAVE WATER’
FWA and Terra Bella Irrigation District Director Loren Wheatley told Watts what is needed now in his district, which has little or no available groundwater and no other surface water sources, is water. “You [Congress] can sit back there and make money available but we have to have water if these small farmers are to survive,” Wheatley said.
“The message to the politicians needs to be you need to get to work and get it done,” agreed Sean Geivet, who manages the Terra Bella, Porterville and Saucelito irrigation districts.
NEW GOP PROPOSAL
Meanwhile, Republican House Members representing parts of the valley said they stand ready to negotiate with the Senate on legislation to help resolve the drought through short-term and long-term measures, possibly including parts of the drought relief bill the House recently passed.
A statement from Valadao said the Republican House members are hoping for quick Senate action but plan to hold a field hearing and field tour of drought areas “as a way to demonstrate their commitment to educating Congress on the plight of the regulatory loss of water, the need for new storage and delivering water to parched farms and cities.”
Valadao said, “California, especially the San Joaquin Valley has been suffering from drought conditions severely exacerbated by erroneous federal regulations for several years. California Republicans in the House passed legislation to provide immediate relief and a long term solution, their second attempt in recent years to address California’s water issues.”
He said the Senate needs to act “so that both Chambers may resolve our differences, find common ground, and move bipartisan, bicameral drought legislation through Congress and to the President’s desk.”
“When Majority Leader Reid decides to put California water legislation on the Senate floor for a vote and Senators Feinstein and Boxer work to ensure its passage, I look forward to coming together to find areas of common ground and common sense to finally achieve a solution that our state is so desperately in need of,” Representative Devin Nunes (R-TULARE) said.
On the other side of the aisle, Representative Jim Costa (D-FRESNO) has introduced a package of legislation that would invest in California’s water infrastructure and expedite construction on existing storage projects to improve water reliability.