House approves California water rights bill

The bill is a GOP response to the Obama administration's 2009 regulations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that diverted water away from residents and farmers in order to ensure the survival of salmon and the Delta smelt fish. Republicans have called water access problems in 2010 a "man-made drought," and in a rare floor appearance, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the ESA rules were a "perfect example" of government overreach.

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"They're using a law, the endangered species law, for what I would describe as an unintended purpose," Boehner said. "They're using the law to shut down production agriculture, that they don't like, and abusing the law that was created by this Congress. It is wrong, and it should not stand."

Several Democrats argued that the bill violates state's rights, because it would create a federal water policy for California and other states that would be affected.

"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 argued the bill reinstates a 1994 agreement known as the Bay-Delta Accord that was seen at the time as a compromise between environmentalists, farmers and representatives of the local, state and national governments.

"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."

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), said the ESA regulations took water away from farms, which forced the region to import food even though it's known as a significant agricultural producing area. Nunes showed a picture of people in food lines, eating imported food.

"They used to grow the nation's carrots," he said, pointing to pictures. "We now import carrots from China to feed the people in the food lines."

Democratic Reps. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) also spoke in favor of the bill.

"In 2009 and 2010, valley communities suffered through a hydrological and regulatory drought that was insufferable," Costa said, adding that this year's light snows could lead to more problems this year. "My congressional district is the most impacted in California by this shortfall."

The White House said this week that it would veto the bill if it made it to President Obama's desk. Regardless, the Democratic Senate is unlikely to consider the bill at all.