MONTROSE (CBS/AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday that a Republican effort in Congress to address California’s unprecedented drought is an “unwelcome and divisive intrusion” in the state’s efforts to address the crisis by pitting water users against one another.
Brown, a Democrat, sent a letter Monday to leadership of the House Committee on Natural Resources and California’s entire congressional delegation asking them to oppose HR3964, which is scheduled to be taken up this week.
The legislation, which is sponsored by California’s Republican congressional delegation, would allow farmers to increase pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and create a House-Senate committee to tackle water problems.
“It would override state laws and protections, and mandate that certain water interests come out ahead of others,” Brown wrote in his letter. “It falsely suggests the promise of water relief when that is simply not possible given the scarcity of water supplies.”
California officials announced last week they will not send any water from the state’s vast reservoir system to local agencies this spring, the first time that has happened in the 54-year history of the State Water Project. State Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said there simply is not enough water in the system to meet the needs of farmers, cities and the conservation efforts that are intended to save dwindling populations of salmon and other fish throughout Northern California.
The House Majority Whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said the Brown administration’s decision puts unsustainable pressure on already dangerously low reservoirs and groundwater reserves. He urged the governor to relax state environmental regulations, such as those that protect fish, to allow more water to flow to the parched Central Valley.
“This bill ends the madness of putting fish before families and creates a solution to ensure consistent water deliveries for our communities when Mother Nature blesses us with precipitation,” McCarthy said in an emailed statement Monday. “Any other proposed idea to ameliorate the effects of today’s drought would not be felt for over a dozen years. Our communities cannot wait.”
Republican State Sen. Andy Vidak said it’s about time somebody heard the pleas of California’s distressed farmers, who provide fresh vegetables and fruit for much of America.
“We need the relief. We can come back and revisit the salmon later. This is only a two-year fix, as I understand it. And people need water,” he said.
Vidak, who is a farmer and rancher himself, said this is not just another abstract issue for him and his neighbors.
“I didn’t get to employ 60 people this year because there was no water to grow lettuce; I sold cattle nine weeks ago because there was no rain in the mountains. It’s devastating. With zero water, with water going down the San Joaquin River for a lost tribe of salmon that’s been gone for 60 years, it just makes no sense,” he said.
Brown said the federal legislation would interfere with the state’s efforts and would “re-open old water wounds.”
KCAL9’s Dave Bryan reports the issue has gotten so heated that House Speaker John Boehner recently showed up in the Central Valley to insist the current law must be changed.
“How you can favor fish over people is something that people in my part of the world would never understand,” Boehner said.
Political experts believe the California drought is becoming a powerful political issue statewide.
“This is a partisan water war. The Republicans are siding with farmers and the governor is siding with environmental interests. This pits the federal government against the state,” said Prof. Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College.
The prospects for any water bill that passes the Republican-controlled House are uncertain because Democrats control the Senate, and both of California’s senators are Democrats.
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