California drought relief bill advances in the House

The House voted Wednesday to advance a controversial Republican bill that would require the government to restore the flow of water to homes and businesses in California's Central Valley, instead of using it for wildlife restoration.

Members approved a rule for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act, H.R. 3964, in a 229-190 vote. That vote will let the House debate the bill, consider amendments, and pass it by the end of the day.

ADVERTISEMENT
The legislation is aimed at negating a 2009 Obama administration decision to block the flow of water the Central Valley in order to protect fish and wildlife species, including the Delta smelt. Republicans have said this decision has led to a man-made drought in the Central Valley, and have argued since 2009 that it needs to be reversed.

During the rule debate, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) accused Democrats of opposing the bill because they feel guilty about California's coastal cities that have water shortage problems.

"They wanted to keep [the Central Valley] as a desert because they feel bad about the destruction that they've done on the coast of California," he said. "So if they can keep inland California in its original state, they'd be happy with that."

Democrats have argued that the Delta smelt decision is not the reason why the valley is in a drought, and said the entire state has suffered from record low rainfalls over the last year.

"To say this bill will help the drought is grossly misleading and frankly, irresponsible," said Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.). "Even if we pump as much water south as possible, it still wouldn't be enough.

"The problem is a lack of rain. There is simply no more water to pump from the delta."

Just before the rule vote, the Obama administration said it opposes the bill, and that President Obama would veto it if it made it to his desk. The White House said the bill would not relieve drought conditions, and that new decisions about water allocate need to "promote water reliability and ecosystem restoration."

The rule also covers floor consideration of H.R. 2954, the Santa Rosa Island Title Fairness and Land Preservation Act. This bill allows the transfer of land between two countries in Florida, and it's expected to be considered on Thursday.

As they did yesterday, Democrats spent most of the debate calling on the House to consider the Senate's flood insurance bill. But also just like yesterday, House Republicans rejected this as a diversion and won a procedural vote to keep the House on the land-use bills.