On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee held a business meeting on H.R. 23, the Gaining Responsibility on Water Act (GROW Act) and heard remarks from Rep. Ben Bishop (R-Utah), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-North Coast). The stated purpose of the bill is to provide drought relief for California through common sense deregulation of the state’s water systems. The bill’s deregulatory provisions drew criticism from Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) for pre-empting California state law, overlapping with the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN), and gutting the Endangered Species Act.
Speaking before the House Rules Committee, Rep. Huffman argued members of the House did not receive adequate opportunity to discuss the bill’s impact on California’s environment and fishing economy. Despite criticism from Democrats, the Rules Committee sent H.R. 23 to the House floor where the bill passed 230-190.
H.R. 23 is the latest chapter in a historical dispute between California’s fisheries and farming communities. The bill will allocate surplus water towards the Central Valley that traditionally is flowed to the Pacific Ocean to preserve the ecosystem for fish like salmon and steelhead. Josh McManus, Executive Director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, says this bill will be “the end of salmon in California,” if it becomes law. Both Rep. Huffman and McManus predict there will be tremendous job loss in California’s fishing economy if H.R. 23 is signed into law. On the other side of the dispute, farmers from the Central Valley argue they need more water to keep the land productive and claim the current status quo prioritizes fishing over agriculture. In addition, Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford), original sponsor of H.R. 23, argues farmers and Central Valley residents will benefit from the bill because it will ease environmental regulations that disrupt water storage and delivery systems.