Saturday special: Federal drought legislation update: Environmental Water Caucus, Latino Water Coalition write letters; Obama threatens veto

On Tuesday, Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, introduced new federal drought legislation, HR 5781, as a last-ditch effort to get federal legislation passed before the end of the year: Rep. Valadao, California Republicans Introduce Bipartisan Emergency Water Legislation

Reactions  …

Jared Huffman (D-02), George Miller (D-11) Mike Thompson (D-05), Doris Matsui (D-06), Jerry McNerney (D-09), John Garamendi (D-03), and Ami Bera (D-07) quickly renounced the bill here: Northern California Delegation Statement on Flawed, Discriminatory House Republican Water Bill: Members say, “The drought does not stop at the edge of congressional districts.”

Thursday, the reactions by C-WIN, Golden Gate Salmon Association, and Restore the Delta were posted on the Notebook here: C-WIN, Golden Gate Salmon Association, and Restore the Delta react to federal drought legislation

The Environmental Water Caucus has written a letter to Senator Feinstein and Boxer opposing the legislation:

ewc logo“Dear Senators Feinstein and Boxer:

The Environmental Water Caucus (EWC) thanks you for your commitment to following the regular order to help ensure that members of the fishing industry, Indian tribes, municipalities, and other industries dependent on fresh water supplies from the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are allowed opportunities to testify and inform deliberations on H.R. 5781.

Prior to its release, H.R. 5781 was an unknown quantity for our member agencies and their constituencies. Now that it is out, we learn that its supporters would try to persuade Congress to micromanage California’s water shortage by usurping state and federal agency authority to manage Delta water operations and exports, and to benefit primarily San Joaquin Valley interests with drought relief using Delta flows, rather than broad-based distribution of relief to all areas hit hard by California’s drought. …

Read the full text of the letter here:  Oppose HR 5871–Feinstein Boxer Drought Bill Letter 20141205 (2)

The California Latino Water Coalition has also written a letter, this one in support of the legislation:

California latino water coalition logo“Dear Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer:

We, the undersigned California Latino Water Coalition members and elected officials from the Central Valley, are grateful for the highly supportive roles both of you have pursued over the past several months in search of broad, necessary solutions to California’s water crisis. Thanks to each of you for  your determined work, on behalf of the Senate, on this year’s drought legislation as well as your support and vital assistance in the recent successful passage of the California water bond, Proposition 1. These are major steps in helping California improve its ability to manage and optimize a more reliable water supply for today and into the future.

However, there still remains a very serious Delta crisis, one that continues to create devastating hardships to many people in our valley. Most severe of these impacts are being experienced in rural communities where families have experienced escalating unemployment as a result of near total water supply shortages related to the Delta situation. … ”

Read the full text of the letter here:  Letter — CLWC To Senator Boxer re Emergency Drought Bill (12-5-14)

And the California Water Alliance, the Southern California Water Alliance, the Independent Cities Alliance, and the Chicano Youth Center issued this statement:

“A broad-based statewide coalition of businesses, urban and rural residents, farmers, water districts and municipalities has come together to urge Congress to pass emergency legislation introduced in Congress this week to, according to coalition officials.

H.R. 5781 – the Emergency California Drought Relief Act of 2014 – seeks to offer a temporary solution providing operational flexibility for the state’s two main water systems in an effort to reduce human suffering caused by water shortages and provide water supplies statewide as California heads into a fourth consecutive year of extreme drought.

“As water is being shut off to Southern California, we’re preparing for mandatory rationing and increased water, power, and food prices while other parts of the state are like Third-World countries as people don’t even have water in their own homes,” said Luis Alvarado, executive director for the Southern California Water Alliance. “The time for talking and stalling is over – Congress needs to act on this bipartisan measure before 2015 so we can start capturing current rainfall and making plans to ensure the publics health and safety.” … ”

Read the full statement here: Southern and Northern California Unite in Support Of the Emergency California Drought Relief Act of 2014 by Christmas

President Obama threatens veto …

And so it appears that President Barack Obama has done a little writing of his own:

barack obama“The Administration opposes H.R. 5781 because it fails to equitably address critical elements of California’s complex water challenges.  The Administration appreciates the efforts by the bill authors to address concerns raised by the Administration regarding H.R. 3964, the Sacramento- San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act.  However, because H.R. 5781 makes operational determinations regarding the use of limited water resources during the ongoing drought, and contains many new provisions that could lead to unintended consequences or further litigation, the Administration cannot support the bill in its current form.

The Administration takes seriously the ongoing drought that has affected communities, producers and water users across much of the country, including the especially hard hit State of California. Since the President’s visit to Fresno, California earlier this year the Administration has undertaken a number of steps to help those most affected by drought. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has directed millions of dollars in food, conservation and emergency water assistance to tens of thousands of residents in areas hardest hit by drought. The Bureau of Reclamation has provided cost-share assistance for nine water reclamation and reuse projects in the State as well as millions of dollars in grants to build long-term resiliency to drought.

Moreover, the President has directed Federal agencies to work with state and local officials in real-time to maximize limited water supplies, prioritize public health and safety, meet state water quality requirements, and ensure a balanced approach to providing for the water needs of people, agriculture, businesses, power, imperiled species and the environment.  Among other things, these efforts took form in a 2014 Drought Operations Plan, prepared in close coordination with the State, and the Administration is already taking steps to prepare a new drought plan for 2015 based on lessons learned and the best available science during the current year.

H.R. 5781 was introduced on December 2 and is being considered in the few remaining days of this session without a hearing or opportunity for the public to review and provide comment.  In particular, the bill appears to include a number of potentially conflicting mandates which can create confusion and undermine environmental laws, making it ripe for future litigation.  Given the complexity of California water issues, policy determinations over the use of scarce water resources should be developed in an open and transparent manner, with an ability for the public, affected stakeholders, and Federal, state and local officials to review and provide comment and feedback.  The Administration stands ready to work with Congress in this regard.

For these reasons, if the President were presented with H.R. 5781, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

Source: Statement of Administration Policy; H.R. 5781 – The California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014

In the mainstream press  …

Here’s the newspaper coverage I’ve collected so far.  Check out tomorrow’s weekend Daily Digest for any others …

  • Obama threatens veto on California drought bill:  “After golfing on some of California’s biggest water-guzzling courses, President Obama has issued a veto threat against drought-relief legislation for California.  The White House said Friday night that Mr. Obama would likely veto the bill because it makes “operational determinations regarding the use of limited water resources during the ongoing drought” and contains other provisions that could lead to litigation over environmental protection issues. … ”  Continue reading at the Washington Times here:  Obama threatens veto on California drought bill
  • Valadao introduces last-minute drought bill:  “Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, has introduced a new, scaled-down water bill that could free up more water for drought-impacted farms, cities, factories and wildlife refuges through the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project.  The bill, introduced Tuesday as HR 5781, is a last-ditch effort to get something done before the end of the year after negotiations with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., collapsed last week amid pressure from environmental groups who said they were cut out of the process. … ”  Continue reading from the Hanford Sentinel here:  Valadao introduces last-minute drought bill
  • Emergency drought bill deserves to die, says the Sacramento Bee: They write: “House Republicans intend to jam through a California drought-relief bill early next week that would suspend some state water rights and environmental law to maximize water diversions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  This is no way to address an issue as important to California as water. It is doomed to fail in the Senate and deserves to die. California’s congressional delegation should be working on a compromise that involves all interested parties, not ramming through a bill during the final days of the lame-duck session. ... ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee here:  Emergency drought bill deserves to die

The latest …

Last I heard, the bill is to be debated on Monday and taken to a vote on Tuesday.  More to come …

Update …

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