Last week, a group of House Republicans from California introduced new legislation to address the drought in California and other parts of the West. This legislation is the latest move in a multi-year effort to find a legislative fix for the region's ongoing water crisis.
The California-specific provisions in H.R. 2898, the "Western Water and American Food Security Act," focus on boosting water transfers from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Valley Delta to parched agricultural communities in the Central Valley, and municipalities further south, including Los Angeles and San Diego. The bill also seeks to increase water storage in the New Melones reservoir roughly 90 miles southeast of Sacramento, and other sites throughout California, and includes provisions to protect senior water rights holders in the state.
To allow for more water to flow south from the delta, the legislation would tweak the science formulas used to protect the region's endangered smelt and salmon species, a change that Democrats have long argued would roll back environmental regulations for the region's vulnerable fish population.
Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), one of the bill's sponsors, authored a similar drought bill last year that sank in the Senate after Democrats balked at the proposed changes to environmental regulations. Rep. Jim Costa from Central California is the lone Democrat cosponsor of H.R. 2898.
With the exception of Costa, most other California House Democrats – along with the state’s Senators - slammed the proposal, claiming it contains provisions that would harm endangered fish species and weaken environmental standards. The California Farm Bureau Federation issued support for the new CA Republican water bill.
Northern California Democrat Rep. Jared Huffman unveiled in mid-June a draft proposal that he hopes will be the alternative to the latest House GOP measure. Huffman's bill, which has not yet been introduced as the lawmaker collects ideas and feedback from stakeholders, would offer roughly $1.2 billion in new federal funding for water efforts across the West, as well as a number of new authorities. The Huffman draft is being supported by the WateReuse Association, the Association of California Water Agencies, the Western Recycled Water Coalition, and a number of environmental groups.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein is crafting her own drought legislation, which she has said will go beyond emergency measures to also contemplate longer-term approaches like desalination and increased water storage. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has also said she intends to introduce a western water bill this year.