The House passed a bill on Wednesday that California Republicans say will help the state fight future droughts.
The legislation, from Rep. David Valadao (R) and 14 other California Republicans, looks to expand water storage and improve water delivery as a way to get more water to the state’s Central Valley during times of drought.
The bill overhauls federal regulations and permitting procedures that supporters say have hamstrung California and other states in the West that have faced persistent drought concerns.
Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said the bill “addresses the policy, regulatory and administrative failures that have mismanaged our water supplies across the West.”
The House passed the bill on a 230-190 vote.
Democrats accused the GOP of overriding California law and its power over water supplies, while significantly harming commercial fishing in the state by reapportioning water.
“Make no mistake. If enacted, this bill will hurt a lot of people,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).
“It takes water away from fishermen, from tribes, the environment, Delta farmers and others in order to redistribute it, primarily to a small group of some of the nation’s biggest and most politically connected agribusiness interests.”
Huffman said the bill pre-empts California state law in numerous ways, such as by blocking state protections for fisheries and the state's ability to manage water for the public good. He cited a letter Gov. Jerry Brown (D) wrote to the congressional delegation opposing it.
The GOP has been working for years to provide drought relief to California through actions like easing permitting for reservoirs and changing water rights. It achieved some of the goals last year with provisions attached to the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, but not all of its goals.
Valadao’s bill is the second drought-related measure passed by the House this session. Last month, lawmakers approved a measure to speed up permitting decisions for water storage projects such as dams and reservoirs in the state.
McClintock praised Wednesday’s bill as one that “chooses a brighter future of abundance and prosperity, that can begin today.”