California’s entire Republican House delegation is getting behind a bill to increase the amount of water available to Californians during the state's worst drought in centuries.
The bill, introduced by Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) on Thursday, would change how the federal government releases water through the massive Central Valley Project, while making other changes aimed at the drought in other western states.
Valadao’s legislation is meant to directly confront a common Republican refrain: That environmentalists — and the federal government’s environmental policies — are to blame for the last four years of drought not just in California but elsewhere in the west.
The GOP argues that state and federal officials have been prioritizing fish over humans in their decisions regarding water pumping and building new water infrastructure.
The stance contrasts with Democrats and their allies, who believe the drought is caused or exacerbated by climate change and that conserving water is the key to getting the state through it.
The bill would instruct federal officials to pump maximum amounts of water through the water project. Concerns about fish like the delta smelt or salmon could only be used to limit water flows if there’s a concern of extinction and other protection measures aren’t available.
“California’s drought has devastated communities throughout the Central Valley and now the consequences are extending throughout the country,” Valadao said in a statement.
“Congress cannot make it rain but we can enact policies that expand our water infrastructure, allow for more water conveyance, and utilize legitimate science to ensure a reliable water supply for farmers and families,” he added.
“The tragedy of the current drought is no longer isolated to California’s Central Valley, and its response must include tangible solutions that provide us the opportunity to pursue the California Dream. Today is an important step to helping restore the water our communities desperately need by more fully utilizing the most sophisticated water system in the world to quench the robust economic opportunity California families, farmers, workers, and businesses all need."
GOP aides said Republicans have been working with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on the measure, since she have pushed back on previous attempts to change water rules for fish.
And although Feinstein has not announced support for the bill, the Republican aides said their measure aligns with what has happened in those negotiations.
“Right now, lots of times, the agencies say, ‘we think, we feel, we believe there’s a negative impact to fish, so we’re not going to increase pumping,’ ” an aide said.
Despite the bill’s high bar for changing pumping to protect fish, the staffers said it does not amount to an attack on the Endangered Species Act — a frequent criticism of previous legislation meant to increase water flows.