House looks to advance California water rights bill next week

Nunes and other supporters argue that a 2009 decision from the Obama administration on the need to protect the Delta smelt, a small fish, forced California to divert millions of gallons of water for that purpose, hurting residents and businesses.

"Such restrictions cost thousands of farm workers their jobs, inflicted up to 40% unemployment in some towns, and fallowed hundreds of thousands of acres of fertile farmland," Nunes said in a summary of the bill.

The House Natural Resources Committee approved the bill on Feb. 16 in a 27-17 vote that included support from some Democrats. In a statement after that approval, Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said the bill is a reaction to what he said was a man-made drought that resulted from the 2009 decision on Delta smelt.

"By passing this bill, Republicans are taking action to end the man-made drought caused by government regulations and environmental lawsuits" he said. "My California colleagues have worked tirelessly to ensure future generations of Californians will not have to suffer through more misguided government regulations that threaten their livelihood and put the needs of fish before people."

More specifically, the bill seeks to let California manage water distribution and environmental issues under the old Bay-Delta Accord, an agreement reached between environmentalists, water users, the Clinton administration and state government agencies, and other interested parties in the early 1990s. The bill would hold that if the state operates consistently with that agreement, it would be seen as consistent with the ESA.

The House Rules Committee set a Feb. 28 deadline for amendments to the bill, a sign that the committee could approve a rule for considering the bill on the floor as early as next week.

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