"It's a perfect example of the overreach of government," Boehner said of the regulations, adding that the regulations amount to an improper use of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by environmentalists.
Boehner also argued that the Obama administration should support the bill because it would help re-establish farming jobs in California, even though the administration issued a veto threat against the bill on Wednesday.
"Well, here's a situation where we've have tens of thousands of farmers and those who work on those farms in the central valley of California, being denied the use of their own land, being denied the labor to feed their own families, because someone is abusing the law," Boehner said.
The Speaker made his floor appearance just before the House advanced the legislation by approving the rule governing debate on the bill. Members approved the rule in a 245-173 vote, which allowed the House to begin general debate on the bill and consider several amendments.
While other Republicans said the bill is bipartisan, several Democrats opposed the bill, arguing that Congress should not intrude on an issue that has been left to local control for decades.
"I would argue that this isn't the appropriate venue to settle inter-California disputes that have long been settled through case law and settlements," Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said.
But Republicans rejected that, and said the bill would restore control to California that was overtaken by the Obama administration under the ESA.
"It doesn't pre-empt state water rights," Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said of the bill. "It specifically invokes and protects state water rights against infringement by any bureaucracy, local, state or federal, a legitimate constitutional function of the federal government established under the 14th Amendment, and made essential by the terms of the state-approved joint operating agreement of these intertwined water systems."
McClintock added that a 1994 agreement struck under the Clinton administration, which balanced species preservation and economic growth, was praised at the time as a solution to water rights in the San Joaquin Valley, and carried an explicit promise to provide water to needed farms and businesses. But McClintock said this agreement was destroyed under the Obama administration.
"The water diversions shattered that promise, this bill redeems it," he said. McClintock was referred to the so-called Bay-Delta Accord, which would again become the governing water rights rules under the bill.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who sponsored the bill, noted that a U.S. District Court judge has already thrown out much of the science used to justify the decision to divert water away from farms. "The court's decision was a shocking indictment of the kind of government operating in America today when it comes to our environmental laws," he said.