Congressman Doug La Malfa, Congressman Tom McClintock, Senator Jim Nielsen, Senator Tom Berryhill, Senator Ted Gaines, and Assemblymember Kevin Kiley speak at Mountain Counties event
The elections in November heralded a dramatic upheaval in the federal administration. With a new Republican administration in place, President Trump has promised big changes in many of the nation’s policies and regulations.
The Mountain Counties Water Resources Association event, “The Trump Administration – A View from the Top”, brought together the region’s legislators to discuss their views on California water and forest management issues, and how they see these issues moving forward under the new Trump Administration. The event was sold out, and even included a long line of peaceful protestors lining the roadway up to the facility.
Here’s what the legislators had to say.
CONGRESSMAN DOUG LA MALFA
Republican representing the 1st district of California (Northeastern California)
Good morning. Thank you for gathering here today. … I’m excited about where the possibilities we have coming here. It’s like the sunshine right now after all this rain. It’s a relief for a lot of people, but we’re also very grateful for the rain. In the past when we’re in a drought year and we get a little bit of rain, the first thing the news wants to say is we got some rain, but it’s not enough; this drought is still going. Some might say now we have too much, but we always want to be grateful for what we’ve been blessed with. We’ll get through it, and that’s why we, as people with the know-how, need to build the infrastructure to handle it one way or the other.
If we’re going through drought periods and we have the infrastructure in place to store water for a long period of time, we get through the drought. When we have a little too much water, we have strong infrastructure to channel it and make it go where we want it to go with reinforced levees, as much of that work has been done in my area, and much still needs to be done in the Sutter Buttes, Glenn County, and others.
I was born and grew up in Oroville, and as Sarah Palin has been known to say, I’m paraphrasing, “I can see the dam from my front window.” We’ve taken a very big interest in what’s been going on there … So I’ve asked all the questions I could of DWR folks, and I’m not here to be an apologist for DWR, or Army Corps Of Engineers, or FERC, or anybody else. I represent the people, and I wanted to get them straight answers. … But they had to be prepared, and that’s what we’re all about – preparedness. Preparedness for drought, preparedness for when we have a little too much water and the flood control system. Bottom line, the dam is sound. The emergency spillway itself is sound. Obviously the main spillway itself has issues but it’s been functional enough. … They’ve done a pretty good job post-breakage of managing the crisis. They don’t always get the right information out, but they are managing it well, and getting the lake down where it needs to be to weather the rest of the weather through the spring, with an eye towards making sure they’re not blowing the levees down in Yuba, and Sutter, and the rest of the system.
With the Lake Oroville as it is, as soon as they’re through this crisis mode … they can start really assessing what they’re going to have to do to rebuild it, because we need it ready in some form or another by next November. … Our job will be to make sure there’s no hemming and hawing on getting that rebuilt, no lawsuits, no lengthy permits, or red tape processes. This is still an emergency and it is for the people of Oroville because I could still see the thing from my front window.
This past December, we were able to pass a positive legislation called the WIIN Act, W-I-I-N, that is very important for water storage projects in the state as well as the importance of, continued importance for Northern California area of origin protections and that’s right in our backyard. For people to think that we’re not there trying to protect water for everybody, especially their area of origin, is just a misnomer. We’re concerned with all facets of it, of restoring water, but we’re also making sure that people that are the locals, the landowners, the businesses around that are made whole as well with whatever may come from it.
Shasta Dam is one of the storage proposals. We’re focused mostly on Sites Reservoir over in the western side of the valley. Temperance Flat has been a long-time positive. If Shasta Dam were to move forward as a possibility for being raised, whether its 18 feet – many of you that know probably that they had engineered it to be raised 200 more feet. They decided not to build it that way at the time. Can you imagine 200 more feet of headroom behind Shasta Dam? It would make it probably seven million acre feet there. It would be incredible, but I don’t see it happening any time soon. Part of the protections that is the folks that are around that structure would be protected and that they would have an opportunity to have their resorts, their marinas move higher uphill and still be able to be operated. I’m not into the idea that the federal government or somebody would take over all the surrounding land and kick people out that are providing that local recreation and local commerce.
As we move through this year, we’re seeing that Sites Reservoir is becoming more and more of a viable option for people. The people of California voted a couple years ago for a bond to actually build water storage in the state once again, after decades. We want to make sure that the dollars actually get to building the water storage and not for something else. The bipartisan legislation which we’ll be introducing pretty soon will allow the Bureau of Reclamation to participate, even though it’s not likely a federally-funded project, and we’ll have legislation to make that available so we can smooth and speed up the process.
Similar things would apply to Lake Oroville as well because Army Corps of Engineers does have a stake even though it’s a state project. It helped fund 20% of the Dam initially back in the sixties, and in order to have the headroom there it owns 750,000 acre feet of air space at the top of the lake because its responsibilities nationally are for flood control. Army Corps has that responsibility. They may well be part of a solution or a funding. I don’t know yet how that all settles out, because once the dam was initially built it’s been DWR and State of California that had been charged for funding and maintenance at that, since then. Is it appropriate that the feds come in on that? I’m not quite sure right now.
I was at a town meeting last night in Oroville and the locals were talking about how DWR has treated the local economy and the local people there; the promises that were originally put in place back in the sixties – they haven’t fulfilled those. For recreation, they were promised tens of thousands of tourists and all this, so that really hasn’t come true.
In conversations with DWR staff, we’re like, “We’re going to get through this, and we’re going to get it rebuilt. But also you’re going to need to do something for these people here. They’re pretty freaked out right now and they’re pretty angry.” Let’s make sure that we’re also treating the locals in this case here with fairness, and with what’s right for having this facility here, all the pluses for it, but also the downsides on the local economy. I see mostly pluses, obviously. You get water storage, you get flood control, you get electricity generation, you get recreation, and you have water available for habitat needs when you need those flows as well.
Let me talk a little bit about the administration here. It is really exciting to have the President call you at your office. This is in response to his emergency declaration after the happening in Oroville, and many of my California colleagues joined me in a letter to the president immediately after, to get immediate action with his declaration.
What that means in dollars FEMA, we’ll figure that out a little later, but at least their ready and their aware of what is going on. We’re glad to have that, because we didn’t want any political nonsense between the White House and California’s feud to get in the way of that, and they responded very well. He’s going to take a keen interest in our infrastructure in the state, as he’s talked about all across this country.
It’s not just building new stuff that politicians can have ribbon cuttings for and then take a photo. It’s doing the dirty work of rebuilding and refurbishing older infrastructure – bridges highways, old spillways, and levee systems. Dithering by government is not getting it done and its putting people in danger, so all of these infrastructure things need to move forward. I’m confident this administration is going to be a very big part in driving force in building infrastructure.
We have opportunities around here with Centennial Dam, so when NID and the local folks have decided that they want to move forward with that, then we’ll be helpful. It’s a local decision, and we support that.
The winds have changed in Washington D.C. and it is a complete different direction after eight years. It’s part of how the system of government is in this country. Smooth transition of power. For those that are excited, you have maybe have just as many that are really worried about it, but government isn’t intended to move very fast as you’ve noticed, and the pendulum doesn’t swing as far as it sometimes appears in the news or what have you.
We’re going to be all right. For those that are concerned about the new way that the government might be going, we’re still here to serve the people, to provide for their needs – for the needs that are appropriate for government to be providing. In other areas, it has to get out of the way and give them the opportunity to do best for themselves, because that’s always the most fulfilling thing for anybody, is something you’ve made for yourself, something you’ve earned for yourself. For those that need the help, we’re still going to find the ways to do that but we also have an obligation to be stewards of the people’s tax dollars. They’re not our dollars. It’s not Doug Lamalfa’s dollars. It’s the people’s, and so every dollar needs to be going in a place that is respectful of the work it takes for it to be sent there.
If we’re prospering, we’re doing all the good things for our community with what it takes to run local government and what it takes to help others that can’t help themselves. I’m very, very excited and optimistic for things going forward. Once we get through this gnarled time we’re in right now, we can actually start performing and showing what can be done with the boosting economy. We’re already starting to see the opportunity. It does feel like for many Americans, it’s morning in America again without a U in morning, okay?
That all said I’m excited to be here. Thank you for inviting us. We will see you out there in some town halls, okay, starting in about April when I don’t have one fourth of my district being evacuated, or under flood watch, or something like that. That’s a little better time and I look forward to serving you.
CONGRESSMAN TOM McCLINTOCK
Republican representing the 4th district of California: (Mountain Counties region)
Thank you all for being here today. Doug mentioned the controversies of our time. That’s a good thing. Change brings controversy. Our country has been desperate for change, big change. We’re now seeing that. That’s going to mean controversy, but our history tells us that it also means in the end, all will be well.
One of those great changes that have been directed by the American people is in our water policy. I think we’re at a cross roads in our region’s water policy, roads that lead down two very different paths. One leads to an era of increasingly severe water shortages and a withering economy, and we’re already well down that road. The other leads to a new era of abundance and prosperity, and that should not be a particularly hard choice to make.
Nature has just delivered us its old ultimatum to our generation. Five years of historic drought wrought billions of dollars of damage to our economy, destroyed tens of thousands of jobs, and brought many communities within just a few months of literally running out of water, all because we couldn’t store water from the wet years to assure that we had plenty during the dry ones.
Then back-to-back with this historic drought, we’re now amidst one of the wettest winters on record. Massive torrents of water have threatened entire communities on its way to be wasted in the Pacific Ocean, all because of the very same problem. We have nowhere to store this super abundance of water for the next drought.
President Trump was mocked by the left last year when he said that California had no shortage of water but he was absolutely right. Nature produces 45,000 gallons of fresh water every day for every man, woman, and child on this planet; the problem is that water is unevenly distributed over both time and distance. We build dams to transport water from wet years into dry years. We build aqueducts to transport water from wet regions to dry regions. Droughts are nature’s fault. They happen, but water shortages are our fault. Water shortages are a choice we made a generation ago when we stopped building dams and aqueducts to meet the needs of a growing population. We haven’t built a major reservoir over a million acre feet in the state since the New Melones was completed in 1979, and meanwhile our state’s population has nearly doubled.
I might also add monsoons are also nature’s fault. They also happen, but suffering floods, that’s another very bad choice that we made when we stopped building dams, for only a comprehensive system of dams can hold back and regulate the flood waters that would otherwise wipe out riparian habitats and inundate human communities in years like the one we’re in right now.
These two events: a record drought followed by a record rain could not more clearly illustrate the importance of reservoirs and aqueducts. Ours will be remembered as the most foolish generation in California’s history if we fail to heed the lesson that nature is so desperately trying to teach us. The problems at the Oroville Dam are also very important to heed. The spillways of our dams have got be kept state of the art. They must be engineered to avoid cavitation, and erosion.
The fact that Oroville had an inadequate channel on its main spillway, and an emergency spillway that emptied on the barren ground, was an inexcusable lapse of engineering that must be corrected and never be repeated for every dam in the country. We also need to recognize that the Oroville Dam structure itself was never threatened, and all of the lurid tales of an imminent collapse – so much fake news. The spillway structure was threatened. Its failures certainly would’ve endangered lives and caused widespread property damage, but nothing on the scale of a dam collapse.
After every technological failure, we determine the causes and correct them to assure that all of our future projects will be safer for it. Dam engineering is no different, and the lessons we learned over millennia of experience, meaning that our modern dams have never been safer. Unless we forget, had the authorized Marysville Dam been completed, flood management options would’ve been greatly enhanced for this region.
Also lest we forget, without our current system of dams, a year like this would’ve produced catastrophic flooding throughout this entire region, inundating entire communities and reeking billions of dollars of damage. In a region like ours prone to cycles of floods and droughts, and facing growing needs to meet human and environmental needs, new dams have never been more necessary, both to assure safety during flood years and abundance during drought years.
We once understood these self-evident truths. Up until the mid 1970s, state and federal water managers produced an era of unprecedented abundance, a period when vast reservoirs produced a seemingly limitless supply of clean and plentiful water and power on a scale so vast that many communities didn’t bother to meter the stuff. That generation of builders clearly understood the benefits that water and power development brought, not only to the economy, but to the environment as well. Nothing is more environmentally devastating to a riparian habitat then a flood or drought.
When Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the Hoover Dam, he said these words. He said, ‘As an unregulated river, the Colorado added little of value to the region that this dam now serves. When in flood, the river was a threatening torrent. In the dry months of the year it shrank to a tricking stream,’ and he’s right. Everyone thinks that the Colorado River is the great source of all water in the West, but as you all know, the Colorado is a junior sister to the mighty Sacramento. The difference is we store 70 million acre feet on the Colorado. We only store ten million acre feet on the Sacramento, and lose most of the rest of that to the Pacific Ocean every year. The sad, simple fact is we will never solve our water shortage or our flood threats until we start building more dams. We can’t build more dams until we overhaul the foolish laws that are making their construction cost prohibitive.
The little town of Forest Hill. You know that story. I love to tell it because it illustrates the problem that we’re facing statewide, and in fact, west wide. They get their water from a little reservoir built years ago that has an 18-foot spillway but no spillway gate. They didn’t need the water at the time, but they do now. A few years ago the town went out and priced a spillway gate. $2 million to install the gate. Heavy lift for the little community but within reach. But $2 million is not the cost of the project, because added to the $2 million to actually install the gate, they have to budget at least an additional million dollars, and God knows how many years for environmental reviews, and at least $2 million for environmental mitigations. To top it all off, the Forest Service has told them they’re going to need to pay $6 million as the price of relocating a trail that goes around the lake and a handful of campsites. What was doable project for that little community at $2 million becomes an $11 million cost-prohibitive boondoggle.
That’s what’s preventing us from finishing Shasta Dam. In the 1940s, Shasta was built to 600 feet of height. It was supposed to be 800 feet. They didn’t need the extra capacity at the time. They left the remaining construction to the next generation. For roughly $7 billion, about half of what Jerry Brown has proposed for his tunnel project, we could finish that dam, and add nine million acre feet of additional water storage to the Sacramento system, nearly doubling our current capacity with that one project alone. Not even building a new dam, just finishing the old one, that we’ve been stalled for more than two decades by environmental studies and litigation over a proposal to raise it not the 200 feet it was designed, for but by all of 18 and a half feet.
Upstream of Folsom lake on the all American River is the abandoned site of the Auburn Dam. The heavy construction of that dam, the carving and the footings and diversion tunnels, was completed in the 1970s before it was abandoned due to environmental opposition-making spurious safety charges. That dam, which also could be finished for a fraction of the cost of Brown’s tunnels, would store 2.3 million acre feet of water enough to fill and refill Folsom Lake nearly two and a half times, and meet the average residential needs of a population of more than eight million people. It would also generate 800 megawatts of clean and cheap hydroelectricity, enough for almost a million homes, and provide 400-year flood production for the Sacramento delta. The staggering billions of dollars being spent for levee repairs provides protection against a 200-year flood in the Sacramento Delta. It delivers no water or power. Auburn dam would provide 400 year-flood protection.
Before the drought, the Oakdale Irrigation District sought to raise the spillway at the Exchequer Dam by 10 feet to add 70,000 acre feet of additional water storage, enough to meet the annual water needs of a human population of a quarter million people for a year. That required a quarter mile adjustment in the boundary of the 123-mile Merced River wild and scenic designation that encroached on the existing lake boundary. The environmentalists even blocked that simple fix.
Not to mention the Sites Reservoir, which has already been more than 20 years in the planning and it could add an additional 1.8 million acre feet off stream of the Sacramento, or the long-promised Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River that could add another 1.3 million acre feet of storage. In a new administration dedicated to an infrastructure renaissance, these projects, which can be financed in a manner that costs tax payers nothing, should be the first on the list.
In order for them to be financially viable, the environmental laws that have made all these laws cost prohibited must finally be modified. I think after more than four decades under these laws, all of which were imposed with the explicit promise that they would help the environment, we’re at least entitled to ask after all of those years, “So how’s the environment doing?” The answer is devastating. The Delta smelt and Salmon have continued to decline despite all of these policies that have devastated the human population of California.
Indeed, our state’s preparing to spend a half billion dollars of bond money that was promised to be used to construct new dams in order to tear down four perfectly good dams on the Klamath River. When I asked why you want to do something like that I was told, “Oh, well, there’s been a catastrophic decline of the salmon population. Only a few hundred left in the entire Klamath River.” I said, “That’s terrible. Why doesn’t somebody build a fish hatchery?” It turns that somebody did build a fish hatchery years ago at the Iron Gate Dam. The Iron Gate Fish Hatchery produces five million salmon smolts every year, 17,000 of which return annually as fully grown adults to spawn in the Klamath River. The problem is they don’t let us include those in the population counts.
To add insult to insanity, when they tear down the Iron Gate Dam, the Iron Gate Fish Hatchery goes with it. Nor are the salmon helped by these massive releases of water. As one biologist explained, no salmon in its right mind is going to enter a river in a drought. The water’s too warm and there’s not enough of it. The massive water releases trick them into entering waters they’d normally avoid and it doesn’t end well for them.
Eric Hoffer once observed that every great cause becomes a movement, and that becomes a business that degenerates into a racket. I think that’s the story the environmental left, organized to address some very real problems long ago, but also long ago crossing the line from sound public policy into ideological extremism.
I do sense the tide is finally turning. The cost of these policies is now becoming graphically clear to the American people. A new generation is living with the consequence of these policies, and because this new generation isn’t emotionally invested in the mistakes of the past, it’s beginning to ask some fundamental questions like, “Mom, Dad, what were you thinking?”
Just before Congress adjourned, it passed legislation that begins to turn us toward a new era of abundance. The WIIN Act, the acronym is Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation; it’s not comprehensive, but it does contain elements that despite the usual hysterical opposition from the environmental left, won bipartisan support in Congress and even the signature of Barack Obama. It encourages new hatcheries to provide for burgeoning populations of endangered fish species. It adds flexibility to the management of the New Melones reservoir. It streamlines water transfers to assure that water can be more efficiently moved where it’s most needed, which will mean as much as a million acre feet of additional water for human use. It adds strong protection to Northern California area of origin rights. It expedites the approval of new water projects. It updates flood control criteria to make better use of our existing reservoirs. These are important first steps towards a comprehensive reform of our laws during this new congressional session.
The President has made it very clear that he is keenly sympathetic to the plight farm workers in the Central Valley whose livelihoods have been decimated by these laws, and is anxious to begin a new era of infrastructure construction to meet the fundamental needs of our economy. New legislation this year will fund new reservoir construction, set the stage for enlargement of Shasta and construction of reservoirs at Sites and Temperance Flat, further strengthen Northern California water rights, provide operational flexibility to prevent unnecessary spills and diversions, and streamline regulations to assure that human needs are treated with the same seriousness as environmental demands.
Legislation with similar provisions passed the House of Representatives on a bipartisan vote last year, only to be blocked by Senate Democrats. I hope soon to introduce legislation to allow revenue bonds to finance federally authorized projects, assuring that new construction to be financed without relying on tax payers or a treasury that’s nearing insolvency. All of this is for naught if we don’t overhaul NEPA and ESA to restore them to their original, legitimate, and limited purpose, and remove them as instruments of indefinite delay, obstruction and cost-prohibitive restrictions.
I can tell you that these very same laws have made it absolutely impossible to manage our federal forests to the point where they have become morbidly overgrown, stressing the trees, and leaving them highly susceptible to drought, and pestilence, and disease and ultimately to catastrophic wild fire. In short, these same laws that have prevented us from meeting our water needs are also killing our forests.
Now is the time to confront the environmental left on its own ground, hold it accountable for the disastrous environmental damage it has wrought upon our national forests and water sheds, and the tragic economic damage it’s caused to millions of hardworking families in agriculture, in our suburbs, and in our mountain communities. We must educate the public that there is a better way.
I said we are at a crossroads, and this generation will have to decide between two very different visions of the future. One is the nihilistic vision of the environmental left, neglect of our natural resources, increasingly severe government-induced shortages, higher and higher electricity and water prices, massive tax payer subsidies to politically well connected and favored industries, and a permanently declining quality of life for our children who will be required to stretch and ration every drop of water and every watt of electricity in their bleak, parched, and dimly-lit homes.
The other is a vision of abundance, the clean, cheap, and plentiful hydroelectricity, great new reservoirs to store water in wet years to assure abundance in dry ones. A future in which families can enjoy the prosperity that abundant water and electricity provide, and the quality of life that comes from that prosperity. It’s a society whose children can look forward to a green lawn, a backyard garden, affordable air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter, brightly lit homes and cities, and abundant and affordable growth rates from America’s agricultural cornucopia.
At this moment in time, Ronald Reagan’s haunting words thunder all around us. “If not us, who, and if not now, when?”
Thank you all.
STATE SENATOR JIM NIELSEN
Republican representing the 4th Senate district of California (Sacramento Valley)
For decades, all water policy was predicated on sharing of scarcity. I speak with authority because I’ve farmed both the east and west side of the San Joaquin Valley and the Sacramento Valley. I’ve represented the Delta and all of the Sacramento Rivers and its watersheds. I’ve been a little inundated through my life, plus I’ve farmed. That requires water. Sharing of scarcity was the big deal, and water was all about the Delta. Water policy had been statutorily, mentally, and regulatorily delta-centric. One of the big things in water was Jerry Brown’s peripheral canal, which I began fighting in 1979. Now, it’s the tunnels.
I like Governor Brown. I’m the only one around that served when Jerry Brown won. We are very friendly with each other, but I call the tunnels Jerry’s pipes dream, plural. My prediction on both the train and the tunnels, why they will not survive his administration. After he leaves, they’ll just slowly die, because neither one can be afforded.
What governed our water policies did not help us. Sharing of scarcity does not get to the future for our children and our grandchildren either with energy or water. Sharing of scarcity has dictated both of those major areas of our lives. In ’09, many of the Senate, we were working on the new policy for water. All through the early part of that year, there were thousands of hours several of us spent in meetings, talking about a new water plan for California under Schwarzenegger.
I remember one night in Schwarzenegger’s office at 2:00 in the morning negotiating, and everybody was preoccupied with the next election, and what that would mean for this water policy, and a bond we were considering. It was all about the next election and the politics of that. In my great frustration I said, “Don’t you all get it? This is not about the next election. It is not about you. It’s about your grandchildren.” As I looked around the room at the folks and saw the blank looks, I was totally disheartened. None of them got it – not even the governor – that it was about the future. That’s a deficiency of the legislature, but that new water plan passed. Many are trying to forget that that ever happened. What did it include, significantly, was that no longer water policy was going to be Delta-centric; that there is a north, there’s a south, there’s a central, and there is also an east and west in water and California. Nobody’s hardly ever talked about that. An east and a west.
That’s important to know. There is an east and a west, and all water is not about the Delta. How many billions of dollars did we pour into the Delta, the California taxpayers, for CalFed to fix the delta? Did it get fixed? Can anybody tell me any news story, or editorial, or op-ed, or any elected, not elected bureaucrat that now will tell you, or environmentalist for sure, that the Delta’s fixed? No. It’s always under crisis and all those billions went for naught. I don’t want to get too far into that but that’s one of the reasons we could not have a Delta-centric policy any more. In addition, working with NCWA, the Farm Bureau, and a few others I was able to craft the strongest area of origin protection language ever, and I tried all the way thought the eighties, folks, unsuccessfully, so I know about how hard that is.
It was hard to get us all to agree on even the language ourselves, but it happened. It is in both the water bond, Prop One, and the statute of ’09, so we in the north are doubly protected. You don’t find many people talking about that nor about coequal goals, but they’re there, and we have a legal foundation to fight back if somebody tries to mess with that. That was huge. No bond came of that year. That came later, a couple years ago …
Doug LaMalfa was a part of that during his years as well. He’s always fought for area of origin. He was in the early stages of setting this stage for these meetings that held and changed the water policies of California, and we were able to achieve the passing of a bond. I remember that light night about 2:00 in the morning, Jerry Brown signing Prop One, where in there is that very important area of origin language but there’s $2.7 billion for surface storage. That doesn’t mean stock ponds. That means large storage – Sites, Temperance Flat. That was what it was intended. That’s what the governor insisted on during his campaign, as did all of us who campaigned for it, including my colleagues. That’s what the argument in the Voter Guide said so the people expect surface storage to happen.
There is water, there’s bond money and other titles of that bond proposal for off-stream storage in the watershed regions, too. Very important. That’s kind of been forgotten. You should not forget it. You should work with us and fight to get some of that for that watershed storage.
I remember very vividly when Jerry Brown said, “Well, we’re only going to get about $2 billion for that.” I knew that would maybe get us Sites but it would not get Temperance Flat. Many of us dug in and we said no. We got it up to $2.7. There is hope. That’s significant, and it has to happen. The Water Commission is now making its final determination of the regulatory language that will define the beneficial use. In other words, where they will direct the money. I have been working very intimately with the Water Commission to ensure that money does not get fettered away.
The governor is even on our side on that point. He was joking with me at a deputy sheriff’s funeral a couple of months ago about that. I was complaining about that eventuality, and he said, “You mean they’ll take that money and waste it in a little small storage?” I said, “Yeah.” We even made a concession in the bond itself to get money for that smaller storage. We cannot relent and insist on that, and we have to insist that the Water Commission come up with a beneficial use language that ensures that we get Site Reservoir at least built. That is a high prospect for us. That’s kind of setting the stage for where we are now.
In the macro sense, California for decades has neglected infrastructure, taking dollars that we taxpayers put in that’s supposed to go to our roads and redirecting it to other wonderful ideas that our colleagues have, denying our roads. Even our off road monies are frittered away. I think what we’re now seeing is a recognition that something needs to be done.
Where it starts, from my point of view ladies and gentlemen … it starts not with taxes. It starts with how can California get projects right, meaning on time and on budget. Have you ever seen one that was? Look at the Bay Bridge. We can’t even get the bolts right, not even the bolts. I don’t know what they cost, but a few hundred bucks I guess, some of those big ones, but can’t even get the bolt right. It’s way over budget. The train from Merced to Tap now is costing three times what the voters were promised when they voted for that. That’s no way. California has to get it right. Like our IT projects, they all crash and burn. Billions of dollars invested in this IT, in the greatest state in the world, for IT. Silicon Valley ought to be ashamed of itself. Can’t get it right.
We’ve frittered away billions of dollars, so California has to figure that out. How do we, California, get it right on budget and on time? Then we’ll talk about what we do. Also, ladies and gentlemen, it does not require tax increases to do all of this. It does not. I’m the last chair of the Budget Committee. I think I speak with some authority. We have resources to do that. That’s where it starts.
Our big goal now is to ensure that the commission makes the right decision, and they don’t stray from the fold. The legislature doesn’t either, and we hold faith with our citizens. That sets the stage. I have to tell you, these developments I speak to since ’09 give me hope. Jim Nielsen has worked his whole adult life for some of these things, unsuccessfully. I joked with Governor Brown that night that he signed a water bond and the rainy day fund. I said, “You know, you haven’t worked too hard on the rainy day fund but I sure have, Governor, and now we’ve got this water bond. That’s going to be the legacy for both of us. You know, your dad started the State Water Project, and now you can follow him with this. That’s better than the tunnels.” He really likes those tunnels, but that’s where the money ought to go.
I think we’re on the threshold of hope here, and the recognition by the public that we cannot conserve our way into the future. I was particularly heartened by the WIIN … the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation. When that passed my heart leapt with joy, because Congress had never taken such a strong stand. It gave me hope to give impetus to California, to follow the lead of the United States Congress and Obama signed. Amazing. Boy, did that make my heart loop with joy, and it gave me hope.
It gave us impetus here for California. In his State of the State Address, he’s going on about the state of the state, and he spends the first part of it bashing Trump. Then he gets back into being cooperative how we can work together in bipartisan things. He looked at me, and he said in part … He looked down at me in the front, and he said … I was sitting in the front of the assembly chamber, the seats. He said, “You know, there’s things we can really work on together, and do together in a bipartisan way. You know, like Sites Reservoir. I think we’re going to get that, Jim.” Wow. What did he mean by that? Why did he single you out? The point was that’s still on his mind, and after the deputy’s funeral, which is a very inappropriate place to talk about water but he had it on his mind. I am encouraged and I have been ensured by the top people in his administration that he wants to get that bond money committed and spent before he leaves office. That give us great hope.
Following on that success of our congressional delegation last year, we have a new president who cares about infrastructure, who understands it, who will pay attention to it, and who has offered some significant funds that can help California with its infrastructure needs. Some of my colleagues in the State Legislature need to quit spitting in his face. If you’re going to want to get some help from somebody you don’t bite the hand that’s going to help you. I don’t understand that mentality, but this president cares about it, and we have a need. There can be some grounds for cooperation and we seen a good measure of that, folks, on Oroville. … I was up there yesterday. We’ve got to get it right, and something didn’t go right, and we’re going to get that figured, out and we’re going to do it right.
That emphasized the deficiency of paying attention to our infrastructure, and in that case, maintaining it. You could say the same about all our roads, right? Bump, bump, bump on the potholes. Infrastructure, so now it’s’ on everybody’s minds. That’s encouraging to me, and we need to work with that administration. How do we do it? We are very, very fortunate now. We have a strong Republican California delegation that believes in this. I hate to be partisan and just saying only the Republicans but, darn it, I don’t want to use the profanity, but that’s just the way it is, folks. We’ve not been able to depend on others in that party, with the exception of Dianne Feinstein, ever. I do give her credit for caring a little bit. That sets the stage of hope for the congressional Republican majority, and Republicans from Congress from California, as in Kevin McCarthy at the top spot.
With our congressional delegation being so effective and seasoned there, and having those key Republican members from California … With that administration, I find some real hope. We had to be optimistic, but we will not get there if we so harbor our optimism within ourselves and don’t stand up and do anything about it. You have to stand up and hoop and holler, get into the arena, pound on the bully pulpit, and let’s get the job done.
Thank you very much for letting me come.
STATE SENATOR TOM BERRYHILL
Republican representing the 8th Senate district of California (Southern mountain counties region)
I want to thank John for inviting me here, the Association. I want to thank our Congressmen McClintock and LaMalfa for being here. They do a wonderful job. I’ve had the opportunity to serve with both of them at the state level and now I have a close relationship with them at the federal level. It’s a great opportunity for all of us here to work together, moving forward together, with not only water infrastructure but road infrastructure and other things also. I also want to thank the senators for coming also, all this way. They also do a very good job for you. Our mountain legislators. There’s not many of us, and so we’ve got to stick together and we’ve got to work a little bit harder. I’m proud to say that we do, so its good to be here today.
When I was trying to put my thoughts together on what I was going to talk about today, there are so many different issues out there that you could talk about. I wasn’t even sure where I wanted to start. Sometimes in politics people have a small tendency to exaggerate, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this state is falling apart at the seams in many different areas. For years the coastal liberals who run the show have wasted money on things that may seem important to them but don’t mean much to anything to regular working folks like us.
For example, and this is an interesting fact, we have over a 102 million dead trees out there. Tree mortality, a real issue, but we have biomass facilities which we should be building, but instead we are shutting down. We can’t get rid of the trees. Nobody wants them. They’re dead and infested. Counties don’t have the money to handle the problem and take care of them, so up in these mountains as we sit here this next year, after all this rain that we’re getting, we’ve got a great big timber bogs and a forest that is waiting to have a biblical fire, which hopefully won’t happen. Boy, we’re in harm’s way. I don’t have to tell that to all of you. You know it. The legislatures here, they know it, and folks, the thing about it is down the road in Sacramento, the Sacramento liberals they don’t get it.
I can tell you that all of us here are trying to make this state better, we’re trying to get more opportunity to the mountain counties, and give them opportunities, and for their families to be able to stay here and grow up here. I’m working on a bill right now to help Tuolumne County get 90% emergency funding from the state for tree removal. Tuolumne, just to let everybody know, happens to be the only county that’s eligible at the moment. We are working to expand that for other counties and hopefully we can give you some help down the road also.
Fortunately, Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, which paved the way for the bill, but he has vetoed other similar bills to the one I have. He killed one just this last year but I am hopeful. I do have a good relationship with the Governor and hopefully we can get something through that will actually help Tuolumne County and other counties nearby. For the Feds, my friends in the federal government, they’ve been very reluctant in recent years to do much to help us, but there has been a change folks. We have got a new president.
We not only have a new president, but we have a brand-new Congress anxious to do business, anxious to move California and this country forward. Very, very, exciting, and hopefully things are going to dramatically different now with President Trump. In fact, I’m working right now on sending a letter to the President asking for him to declare a federal state of emergency to hopefully get some federal help.
On the other side of the aisle, the coastal elites really do love talking about a few of the things that Trump says at times, inappropriate things. Quite frankly, there are times that I agree with them, but there are things that I don’t hear him talk about. What I don’t hear him talk about is about the infrastructure package that he’s so passionate about for the country, and certainly California fits into that category, too. One of the things that I don’t understand is why they don’t try to offer to partner with us for a major infrastructure bill that we desperately need.
When I talk about infrastructure I’m certainly talking about roads. Everybody knows that. We’ve got the biggest crumbling road system in America. Every time I go on it I get ticked, but make no mistake as much as I talk about the roads, because that’s just a no-brainer, we’re also talking about water. When we talk about water, we talk about water storage. As bad as we need these stuff, as bad as we need these dams, instead, this state spends its time and money on hiring people like Eric Holder, and other pointless things that don’t get California safe roads, that doesn’t get California sustainable water, and fire-free forests which we desperately need.
What we need as legislators is for you to help us out. We need for you to take your time to write letters and call legislators. Don’t call us. You’ve got us at hello, but we’ve got a lot of liberal legislators and urban legislators that need to hear from you. It helps, so if you could think about doing that in the future, it would be very much appreciated.
It is time for action. Oroville Dam. Doug talked about it, about all of the problems with it. That was close and not good action. … All this rain has been a blessing but it’s also been a curse. It’s the end of the drought but it has certainly overloaded our system. This much rain, it’s nobody’s fault but much of the damage that’s created is our fault, and it’s largely from years of neglect. All the water that we’re getting right now, instead of getting it stored, it’s all run out to the ocean. Just think, if we fast track these dams like we did for the Sacramento Arena where the Kings play, we could have more water and stop the overloading of the existing dams right now. The way that this thing sits right now, we’re not going to get these dams built for years, 10, 15 years maybe.
If we had some CEQA reform, if we could streamline the regulatory process, we could have these dams built in the next five years. What a difference that would make. I have tried introducing CEQA reform in the past. In fact, I’ve done it several times to no avail, and many others have, too. The environmentalists, they love the regulations, they love to hold us up, and they love to make things slow. That’s why I introduced a bill just like President Trump’s executive order that would force bureaucrats to eliminate two regulations for every one that they write. … As an optimistic as a guy I am, I’m not real optimistic this bill is going to move forward very quickly. Like I say, the environmentalists do love their regulations. At this point of time, I’m willing to try anything to try to move California forward.
You know all this. You have a regulation, the crumbling of our infrastructure, the possibility of unimpaired flows here this next year as the [State Water Board] is threatening and very well may enact. It hurts our farmers, who are so important to all of us, not only here in California, but the world.
I am a fourth generation farmer and we’re in a drought. At least the state still says we still are, so they tell us we still can’t use as much water as we need. Its insanity, really, but it kind of is what it is. We didn’t have enough water before so our crops either went dry or we fallowed our ground. Now we’re underwater from floods and yet if these guys implement unimpaired flows literally next year we can be, if we don’t get rain, we could be in a drought situation again. It’s insanity. Our work continues. It certainly works for reliable water. At the end of the day we need those dams built. We need them built sooner than later.
We have a great team, we truly do, of advocates here in front of you today. They all worked their butts off to try to make things better, and try to make your future better, too.
In closing, I want to say a few things about our new President Trump, and I can tell you that I don’t agree on everything that he’s said. I don’t agree on everything that he’s done and how he’s done it. I think he’s a little bit green, but I’ll tell you this. I do agree with him on a lot of things … I really think the idea of being oil independent is a really good idea. I think the job opportunity from inner cities, to urban, to agriculture for everybody is a fantastic idea. This president is a job-creating machine. Let’s don’t forget that we’re going to be a sovereign country folks. We need a safe and secure border, and we’re working to that effect right, and a clear choice of where we go to school, and what we do its critical as we move forward.
For me, with this new Congress I think there’s tremendous hope. This guy has done more in the first month than his predecessor did in eight years. The fact that he’s doing everything that he promised that he said he was going to do, it seems to surprise everybody. Again, I want to thank John. You’ve done a great job for your organization. I observed the mountain counties for 10 years, and I’ve loved every minute of it, so I love you guys, I love this country.
Thanks for having me and God bless this country. Thank you.
STATE SENATOR TED GAINES
Republican representing the 1st Senate District of California (Northeast California)
Thank you so much for this opportunity. I think everything’s been said. I have listened to a lot of really wonderful elected officials that I’ve have the pleasure of serving with, and agreed with I think everything they’ve said. I’m going to talk about a few things here, but I just want you to know that our future is bright. We have a great opportunity here in America.
It’s really interesting to see the election of Trump. There is trepidation I think among folks in this nation. We are fighting a battle and it’s a battle that I think Ronald Reagan took the torch for and carried. I’m seeing a lot of similarities in terms of his actions, in terms of what he’s doing. His approach is different in that he’s constantly talking about the art of the deal. I’ve read bits and parts of that book, but it’s a very different approach to how you address issues.
It contrasts with Ronald Reagan, because I think Ronald Reagan was more of a Dale Carnegie guy. How do you win and influence friends? Trump’s more an art of the deal guy and that’s a very different approach. When I take a look at the appointments that he’s made, and the fact that the steps that he’s taken in terms of his actions with executive orders, there is hope for America. We’ve got a great opportunity here that we should not squander.
We know a lot of federal money flows into the state of California and we are very viable in terms of what we can get done in the Senate, with regards to infrastructure and policies I think much broader than that. I was really struck and fearful in terms of what happened with Oroville Dam, and the fact that 200, 000 people were in peril. To see them loaded up on those freeways; that is frightening to think about. I think it freaked out every person that was on that highway, in terms of what could happen if our infrastructure fails.
I think it’s incumbent on us as Republicans to convince our colleagues across the aisle that this is an opportunity for a populist movement within California and that we need common sense when it comes to approaching problems in this state, and that our infrastructure has been ignored for decades. The last dam in California was built when Jimmy Carter was president. That is outrageous and ridiculous to think that we’ve put, I think it was either four or five water bond initiatives on the ballot and none of them had anything to do with surface water storage.
It finally came to pass with Prop 1 when we were able to negotiate with Governor Brown. We were able to input that the bond was too big. It had too much pork. I saw projects when that bill came through the legislature, where people were getting $100 million projects negotiated on the assembly floor. We would see a Democrat go into the room, come back. There would be an amendment. Boom. $100 million project going into your assembly seat as a result of a vote for the water bond. I give credit to Governor Brown working in concert on a bipartisan basis with Republicans on paring that down. I think it was nearly $5 billion, and when we take a look at the surface water storage of those two bonds, the one when I was in the assembly versus Prop 1 in the Senate, the haircut towards surface water storage was only 10%. We went for $3 billion in water surface storage to $2.7. Jim is right. He worked tirelessly along with our colleagues in the Senate in saying there’s not enough water storage.
We have an opportunity to work with this governor. We have an opportunity to work with President Trump, our colleagues in the Congress, to take huge strides. In thinking about what was happening in Oroville, I have Folsom Dam in my district, too, but there’s about a million people that could be exposed as a result of a failure of Folsom Dam. I’m a state senator. I want to work with my colleagues in the Congress. It’s a federal dam, but I’m concerned about the safety of my constituents in the Sacramento region, and what the impact could be in the event that there was any sort of failure. The new spillway is still under construction. They’re in their final phase, but I did send a letter to President Trump asking that an inspection be done of all that work. We can’t be careful enough in terms of the engineering and the way that was designed, and to also take a look at the existing dam, the existing spillway, and our levee system.
This is an opportunity on a much bigger scale to look at water infrastructure in the state. … I pray to God that we’ll be safe through the remainder of this winter and the spring runoff. Despite what the Water Board says, the drought is over. It’s over, okay? We’re at 200% of normal in terms of water content, and there’s a lot of snow. Squaw Valley is in my district. 23 feet of snow in 23 days, okay? That’s a lot of runoff and I would love to speak to some of the experts here in the room in terms of what is the impact. Are we going to be okay in terms of the release of that water? Be very fearful of a pineapple express coming through and drenching a lot of rain in the Sierras about now or even a month or two from now. Those are things that we have to continue to be diligent at, and passionate about, and fight for.
It is interesting to see what is happening in our Senate, because it’s embarrassing and we have to go there on a daily basis and endure the agenda of our colleagues across the aisle. When we’re talking about stupid things about a bag ban, when we have crumbling infrastructure, we have it backwards. We dedicated almost the entire session on Tuesday on Tom Hayden. For 90 minutes and it’s like, you know what? We’re at risk here. We’re at peril. We have a priority list that is so crucial to the safety of Californians. What are we doing? Why are we ignoring it? I think ti is incumbent of us as electeds in the state Senate to convince the governor and try to convince our colleagues across the aisle about how critical the situation is.
I think they’re starting to get it, because it’s very interesting. … I think we can work together on infrastructure and he said that in the State of the State Address to us. Yet, we had Kevin De Leon and Mr. Rendon going exactly in the opposite direction. This is an opportunity for them to cooperate and work with us on a bipartisan basis, and see what we can get done in the California legislation in concert with the Congress and the administration. I think our future is bright. That’s why I’m fighting for my constituents, fighting for California, and I continue to hope that there’ll be that wellspring of support of common sense with Californians on what we need to do to get it done right, for the next generation for our children. I’ve got six kids, five daughters and a son, and I want them to prosper here in California.
I think President Trump will actually help with that, despite the maladies here in California. When you drop corporate taxes to 20%, that’s going to be a surge on business. When you take the tax code, and change it from seven brackets to three brackets, and reduce people’s taxes, that is an impact that will help the average California family.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak. Our future is bright. God bless you.
ASSEMBLYMEMBER KEVIN KILEY
Republican representing the 6th Assembly district (Eastern Sacramento and foothill region)
It’s really a pleasure to be here today. I appreciate the chance to hear from my colleagues, and the Senate, and in Congress, and I have learned a lot just listening to them today.
It’s been a little less than two years since I started looking at running for the legislature, and at that time we were at the height of the drought. In just my very brief tenure in politics we have swung from one extreme to the other. This should be no surprise. This is the hand that nature has dealt us, and it’s only through year after year of political malpractice that we have left ourselves at the mercy of nature, and failed to harness the tools of stabilization and long-term planning that we have at our disposal. It’s that sort of misguided thinking that led me to want to get involved. I hadn’t been involved or ever run for anything before.
I grew up in this area. I’m a graduate of Granite Bay High school. I spent the early years of my life in Orangevale. We have wonderful communities here, and I’ve seen though the disconnect that exists with this sort of thinking that we have in Sacramento. I know a lot of folks here today, but not everyone, so I thought I’d give a little bit of my own background. Then I want to just set forth a few I think important priorities for us when it comes to these issues for the year ahead in the legislature. I represent parts of Placer, El Dorado, and Sacramento counties. …
I was born and raised in this area. I was a high school teacher after I finished college. That was actually down in South L.A. and then I went to law school. I was in private practice for a while …. I eventually joined the State Attorney General’s office where I was a prosecutor, a deputy attorney general, and one of my big priorities in the legislature was around public safety issues, which I think are very urgent in our state right now with a rise in crime, the likes of which we have not seen in several decades.
Needless to say I’m entering politics at a very interesting time, and our friends on the other side of the aisle didn’t waste any time in making their displeasure with the results of the federal elections clear. This is my first swearing-in but Senator Gaines, and Berryhill, and Nielsen have participated before and I think they can attest that what we saw the day of swearing in was unlike anything that we’ve seen before. … It’s supposed to be a ceremonial event. You have your family there. My mom was sitting next to me on the floor and it’s not a time generally for politics. Instead, the Democrats decided to use this as an occasion to denounce who was then the President-elect of the United States, and even introduced a resolution doing so, and had some sort of made for cable TV speeches to go a long with it.
Since then things have not gotten better. The hiring of Eric Holder has been mentioned. We have very important pieces of legislation like one that would require that school children would be taught that the Russians stole the election. There seems to be an ongoing competition for who can be the loudest and the most strident. In today’s paper I was reading the chairman of our state party, former senator Jim Brulte was saying, “Well, this actually presents an opportunity for the state Republicans because while the Democrats are busy competing with each other for who can be the most anti-Trump, we can actually be focusing on the real problems facing California.” I agree with that. However, I’d say we have been focused on the real problems facing California while our state as a whole has not long before this last election created this new dynamic. We have reminders of that that are unmistakable.
Whether its these spectacular reminder of Oroville, or the more quotidian reminders every time we get behind the wheel and drive on our state’s roads. I don’t mean for this to sound overly partisan because the fact is, there are a lot of Democrats in the legislature that don’t like what one party rule has wrought for this state. We are at now what I believe will ultimately prove to be the tail end of an experiment, of almost unencumbered or untrammeled one party rule.
Now I’m coming in as a member of a super minority as we call it. Republicans have less than a third of each house of the legislature. Of course, the governor’s a Democrat and all the other executive officers, and it’s been that way for quite some time. There’s been a chance to kind of implement their agenda to the Hill. We have higher taxes than any state in the country. We have more spending. We have more regulations and the results could not be clearer. The highest poverty rate of any state in the country. One of every three welfare recipients in the United States lives in California. One third of our citizens are on MediCal. Our schools are failing. We are the bottom of the country, and of course our infrastructure is crumbling. If there’s one way to sum up what’s happened, and what’s been the cause of all this, it’s that our government has been doing a lot of things that it shouldn’t be doing, and has been neglecting those things that it should be doing. Those public goods that are not themselves amenable to private enterprise, but are the foundation for it.
I see going forward an opportunity to try to focus in on what the real priorities facing the state are. Of course the requisite irony that we now have is that we have a governor who has decided it is worth spending a lot of money on water and transportation infrastructure, but yet has found ways within that domain of spending the money on things that are probably going to do more harm than good.
In terms of the three things that I’d like to focus on, the first is going be ending the Governor’s legacy projects rather than just complaining about them because the fact is, high-speed rail is now estimated to cause $68 billion, and every time we get new information on what’s happening, it’s like when you think it can’t get any more farcical, it does. I believe Senator Nielsen mentioned a recent what was supposed to be confidential federal report showing that the price of the first leg, which is supposed to be the easiest, has doubled, that it’s now being delayed by several years.
There are a few avenues for trying to stop throwing good money after bad, including some ongoing litigations, since the amount of money that was authorized by the voters was a small fraction of what’s now being spent, and we may ultimately have to return to the ballot box, because the number of supporters of this thing are really dwindling.
Of course the twin tunnels are the other area where we decided to spend money on water infrastructure, just the wrong water infrastructure. … That’s number one, is ending the governor’s legacy projects. Number two is making sure that funds that are allocated for transportation or for infrastructure spending actually go there. We have authorized billions of dollars through a bond passed by the voters that have not been put through these projects like Sites that we need.
As far as transportation goes, we’ve seen this practice for many years now of taking billions of dollars that are specifically allocated for transportation and watching them disappear into the general funds. This issue is really going to come to a head this year in the legislature, as you already have a proposal from the governor and the Democrats in the Senate and the Assembly, and now we the Assembly Republicans have our own proposal, which will move around $8 billion to transportation infrastructure, toward road repair and relieving traffic congestion through adding new lanes without raising taxes. That’s going to be through taking things like DMV fees, truck weight fees, and gas taxes that have been going toward the general fund and putting them back towards transportation where they belong. Of course, this practice has been, take money away from transportation, keep taking it away from transportation, and then say, “Oh, our roads are in such bad shape. We need to raise taxes.” That’s not the solution. The solution is to just allow the money that’s supposed to going to transportation to be used to carry out this much-needed work.
Finally, when it comes to water policy in particular, and this is an area where our agencies have demonstrated great leadership as well, we need to really fight against this sort of command and control-centralized model that we see developing ostensibly in response to the drought, but now sort of being further entrenched with the conservation as a way of life plan that we’ve seen put out by the governor’s office. I thank Senator Nielsen, and I was very proud to join him in calling for the governor and the state board to end the state of emergency, and to give back the powers now that the supposed predicate for them clearly is no longer in place, and there no longer is a drought.
It’s concerning looking at this conservation as a way of life plan in that it really undermines the principal of local control. When it comes to water policy we have an ample tool kit that should be able to provide for regional self-sufficiency, not mandates and dictates form the state board.
It’s particularly frustrating, given that we have water agencies in our area that have planned responsibly, that have looked to the future, and that have prioritized responsible planning and water efficiency. To have the state board come in and not take any of that into account in the mandates that it imposes is a source of great frustration, so I’m looking forward to working with local leaders in this area to make sure we are not going further down this road of centralized control, but are bringing back local control as a guiding principal of our water policy.
Finally, I’ll just say a few words about the relationship with the current Trump administration, because that’s sort of the topic of today’s conference. There have been a few ideas mentioned on how we as a state party, given that we have in my chamber 25 out of 80 members, can leverage our newfound power at the federal level to better implement our agenda here. We have the majority leader in our state delegation and Congress, and that absolutely will be a great leverage point.
I would say ultimately though, what might be most effective in turning the tide is that we now have an opportunity at the federal level to really prove ourselves as a governing party. We’ve seen this happen in states across the country that flipped from blue to red in the Obama era, where you’ve seen the effect of pro-growth and sensible policies at the state level. In California we haven’t had much of a chance to see that recently, but I think as folks see, and not to put the pressure on Congressman McClintock and Congressman LaMalfa, but as folks see the effect that the sensible agenda that we see coming forward in terms of infrastructure, in terms of tax policy, and in terms of cutting back on job-killing regulations, that will provide an opportunity for us as a state party to drive our message home, but we need to be ready to take that baton.
Thank you everyone very much.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
QUESTION: With thousands of acres of Bureau of Land Management land interspersed in California’s Wildland Urban Interface, forest land and watershed, all of which is not being managed or properly maintained, it is a huge fire hazard just waiting to happen. The Bureau of Land Management is totally under-funded and under-staffed. What can be done? What can we do to help?
CONGRESSMAN TOM McCLINTOCK: “I can tell you this. It’s not a question of funding. The forests should be generating more than sufficient revenue simply from forest thinning operations. Unfortunately, we stopped doing those about 45 years ago. We’ve had an 80% decline in the timber harvest off of the federal lands in the Sierra, and we’ve had an increase in acreage destroyed by fire. The environmental reviews now cost more than many of these surplus timber sales get from the surplus timber. Sales that used to yield about $300 per acre per year end up costing us money. Our objective is to restore sound forest management to the public lands, and that means taking out the excess timber before it burns. I said long ago that all of that excess timber comes out of the forest one way or another – either carried out or burned out, but it comes out.”
“When we carried it out, we had a steady stream of revenues coming in to the US Treasury. We had a thriving economy, and we had healthy forests because the trees had room to grow. Typical acre of a forestland, depending upon the topography, can support between 20 and 100 trees per acre. Average tree density in the Sierra is now 266 trees per acre, and in that stressed condition, these trees become susceptible to drought, and disease, and pestilence, and ultimately catastrophic wildfire. Our intention is to move the environmental regulations out of the way that have prevented us from managing our forests. Environmental regulations that, as I said in my prepared remarks, literally are killing our forests.”
STATE SENATOR TED GAINES: “With the changed administration and the people that we can stock at the upper levels of managing the US Forest Service, the attitude can change as well as the need to take some of the regional efforts out and put them back to the local foresters. That’s the frustration we run into all the time. The local foresters have a pretty good idea, but then they run into a regional office which then has to wait for Washington, D.C. to tell them something. There is great frustration about the speed with which we could move what they say they want to do. One great example, terrible example. A couple years ago now, up in my far north part of the district, Siskiyou County, part of Trinity, a tremendously devastating fire occurred, almost a quarter million acres. A year and a half later, finally they were getting around to a salvage operation on it. You all know what value of trees is. After six months, it starts declining. We have to move on these things, and we have to also be impervious to lawsuits over salvage. We’ve got to settle this once and for all. Are we going to cut trees? Do we have a prescription already thought of ahead of time? It’s not a novel idea that after a fire, we’re going to go salvage trees.”
STATE SENATOR TOM BERRYHILL: “What’s exciting about the Trump administration is here you have a private sector guy that’s putting in a EPA director that gets it. Hopefully they’re going to send policies down that allow us to move on things that we need to move on, which is clearing forests and being able to cut forests. The problems that we’ve had in the past with the Bush administration, he tried to do some of that. We ended up in lawsuits for his whole administration, so we’re going to have to get through that, but you’ve certainly got a president right now that has the wherewithal and the can-do attitude to move things forward. All of us on this panel today are hoping that this guy is successful as that it’s going to help certainly the mountain counties moving forward.”
QUESTION: Do you anticipate any streamlining of environmental reviews for water projects, and in particular, Endangered Species Act? What we can we expect specifically?
CONGRESSMAN TOM McCLINTOCK: “I’m working right now on a one-stop shopping measure which will assure that when there are new water projects that are brought to the federal government for approval, there is one agency that is the lead agency. They have a specific time frame to coordinate all the federal permitting, and it is cleared out of that one agency. I think the chances are fairly good this year being able to get it through both houses and signed by the President. Ultimately, though, again, as I said in my prepared remarks, we have to overhaul NEPA, and ESA, and the other regulations that are making the management of our public lands and the construction of our water projects impossible.”
CONGRESSMAN DOUG LA MALFA: “We need to not have the wealth of incentive for the lawsuit. If and when we do change the legislation, which we all seem to want to do, that it isn’t a goldmine for lawsuits afterwards. One of the Appropriations Committee amendments I carried previously was to limit the reward of the lawsuits from the dollars per hour that they can be reimbursed, at sometimes $500 and $600, to what is commensurate with other types of reimbursements. At least get it down to the $125 level, so there’s not the magnet of the payoff you’re going to get just by bringing frivolous lawsuits. We have to do it on the legislative side. … There are sound lawsuits. We want that process, but there’s so many frivolous ones that just block everything those people give up.”
QUESTION: The next two questions actually are related. It has to do with groundwater storage and depleted aquifers. … Please comment on the potential to use our depleted aquifers to the Central Valley for water storage and management. I have heard aquifer storage is much less costly than new surface water storage, which would be needed for flood control under predicted climate changes. Following that, or along the same lines, with an increased focus on surface water storage, such as Sites Reservoir with support from the Trump administration, will the administration also support groundwater storage projects?
CONGRESSMAN TOM McCLINTOCK: “I would have to push back on that notion that groundwater is less expensive than surface water storage. I’ve seen figures quite the opposite of that. Surface water storage not only allows us to retain an enormous amount of water at a very small cost per acre foot relative to the other means of storage, it also generates power as water is being withdrawn from these facilities. In the case of groundwater storage, energy is consumed by withdrawing water from these facilities. On top of that, the surface water projects provide not only enormous flood control protection for the region that groundwater storage does not, but also enormous recreational activities and commercial activities as a result of that recreational opportunity.”
“I’m a figures guy. You show me a cheaper way to generate water power and recreational opportunities and flood control, I’ll take it, but I haven’t seen one that comes close to fulfilling the vision of California’s generation of builders, and that is to complete the system of dams that they envisioned a generation ago.”
STATE SENATOR TED GAINES: “That being said, we need a little bit of both. This drought, we depleted so much of our groundwater, we had land [subsiding]. The good news is, with all the rain that we have received, you’re going to see a natural resupplying of that groundwater.
What I’m concerned about is the legislation that we passed just two years ago, dead of night, never had a hearing, and it was a groundwater legislation that potentially, as we move forward, the environmental community will be able to take that water for the fish, instead of for farming, for example, or for communities. Statewide, we have to watch this thing really close because the environmental and liberal sectors of this state have this thing by the short hairs. They use their power at will. They have the super majority now, so it’s hard for us to stop anything, and the groundwater legislation that they passed a couple years has made plenty of concern moving forward, and we’re keeping a really close eye on it.”
STATE SENATOR JIM NIELSEN: “Ted’s right. That bill came to the floor with no committee hearings. A massive change in state policy, with no legislative or public input except the guided, guarded few who wrote that thing. A huge policy issue and very important to California. Yes, we have over drafted everybody in California, but there’s an irony. Some of those most devoted individuals who argue we need to replenish our groundwater simultaneously are doing everything they can to stop any water from going onto the land. In other words, they want it all in the river, including dictating to agriculture, what we can grow and where we can grow it. They oppose us replenishing. They don’t parrot that, but they parrot the policies that will stop us from being able to put water on. The darn bill passed anyway. It passed. The bill passed anyway, and it is going into effect now. In fact, they started implementing it immediately.”
First I have to tell you that groundwater historically has been a private property right. To the degree it was governed, it was by local governments, not the state. Now it’s really the state. They say, “Oh, no, no, no. The bill says local government.” Yes it does, with the exception that if the state doesn’t like the local plan, the state will assert its authority. Guaranteed folks, that’s what’s going to happen. Deceitful.
The counties are now coming up with their plans. I encourage the counties to be fastidious in writing as tight and tough a plan as you possibly can. Review it with the best attorneys you can to defend it, so that the state doesn’t come in and assert its authorities. In addition to that state attempt at controlling your groundwater, there is case law that says that is not any longer a private property right. Groundwater is for beneficial use.
As that groundwater is regulated, and with the state asserting its authority, it is not beyond comprehension the state could say to us, “Well, we need some of your groundwater for some other purpose.” I’m not kidding about that. There was much made about exempting domestic wells … it’s a very low amount, so in other words, a domestic well would not qualify. Don’t be surprised. State wants control over domestic wells as well. I know that because the state board was trying to do that just a few years ago. They didn’t get away with it, but they’re still coveting that. With that authority, and with that case law behind us, that can happen.
This is affecting domestic, industrial, and agricultural users. Industrial users have sort of been comfortable, and they didn’t take any participation much in the debate, nor did local government. League of cities was nowhere to be found. As far as I’m concerned, the County Supervisor Association didn’t do much on it, either, not even to the degree anybody could do anything in a dark of night deal, but in terms of fighting it? Not much. It’s going to affect municipal wells, too. The well police are going to come out and be telling you a lot of things you’re going to have to do with your well, and they will be coming at the domestic wells also.
The last thing, it’s another argument for surface storage, because one of the beneficial uses of water inside reservoirs can be for groundwater recharge. Having more available water supply that does not go out to the bay is helpful to groundwater recharge. The biggest concern with it, folks, it’s a regulatory issue, and it’s an opportunity for government to get the control of that very important resource. If you as a community have any desire to grow, prosper, expand, add new business, you’re going to have potential problems with that legislation. It must be watched.”
CONGRESSMAN DOUG LA MALFA: “We live in a time where there’s a lot of talk of facts, and alternative facts, and fake news, or what have you. Like Congressman McClintock, I’m a facts and figures type person as well. If there’s one area where policy has become unmoored from facts, and data, and evidence, it’s environmental policy in California. I think that there’s all kinds of epithets that are thrown at you, if you try to oppose any piece of that agenda, denialism or what have you. I think with respect to any environmental regulation that exists or is going to be imposed, we need to always be asking number one, where is the evidence that this will have any positive environmental effect, because a lot of times it doesn’t, and number two, where is the evidence that the cost imposed, or the benefit is commensurate to the economic cost that’s imposed?
The second part of the equation is almost never asked, and so I think that this is an area where ideology often can be dominant on the pro-environmental, and an insistence on facts, and figures, and data, and analysis will go a long way.”
ASSEMBLYMEMBER KEVIN KILEY: “I know that certain parts of my district, kind of the southwest portion of Placer County, including Roseville … they have got an aquifer. I think it is an important component. Certainly we’re way behind when it comes to surface water storage in the state, and we ought to be doing everything we can to accelerate that as much as possible. For parts of the state that need the aquifer, and need the recharge, we want to make sure that that is happening, but as my colleagues have said, how can that water be used, and is it being so over-regulated by the state that you don’t have that authority at the local level? It also speaks to the declaration of drought issue by granting 270 more days that the drought is still in effect. You have emergency regulation that is impacting local jurisdictions in a very negative way, preventing them from what they can do, and certainly, water rights of individuals and how they can use their water.”
QUESTION: President Trump has proposed funding infrastructure projects to private funding sources. How would this approach look in water infrastructure projects? Does it open that infrastructure to privatization, and what impact would it have on water users and water rates?
CONGRESSMAN TOM McCLINTOCK: “I gave a speech on the House floor back in December, addressing the question, how do you finance a trillion dollars of new infrastructure the President’s called for over the next decade, and yet balance a budget that is now reaching a historic level of debt? The answer is, I think you can do much more than a trillion dollars without costing taxpayers a dime. That includes simply first getting the federal government the hell out of the way on projects like Dakota, Keystone. We had one abuse of official in the Army Corps of Engineers who was here in Sacramento, who was literally holding up tens of millions of dollars of infrastructure projects mainly from local governments that were ready to go and were being blocked by federal action. You multiply that across the rest of the country, that’s a tremendous amount of pent up infrastructure right there.
Secondly, and I covered this earlier, we’ve got to modify the laws that are making these projects cost-prohibitive. The $2 million spillway gate for Forest Hill at the Sugar Pine Reservoir ought to cost $2 million, not $11.
The third thing, and I alluded to this in the legislation I’m working on right now, I am a big fan of revenue bonds that don’t put the taxpayers on the hook for a dime, but are rather financed by investors … We financed the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, and most of the State Water Project in this manner. We go to the capital market, and we say, “Here is a project. It’s going to generate this much electricity, this much water. We’re going to charge this much for it. That’s how you’re going to get repaid. If we’re right, you’re going to get repaid on time. If we’re wrong, you may be repaid earlier or later, but the risk is on you.” That also establishes a market discipline to assure that these projects actually make economic sense and aren’t just scratching some politician’s ideological itch. The other ways are to restore highway taxes for our highways, and get rid of Davis-Bacon, which by itself is estimated to add about 10% to the cost of infrastructure projects.
The direct answer to your question is, if you follow that program, you can unleash an enormous amount of infrastructure spending, not imperil taxpayers, employ the beneficiary pays principle to these projects, and assure that the projects actually make economic sense.”
QUESTION: With approximately 52% of the Forest Service budget being diverted from forest management and timber harvest sales being used for fire suppression activities, all of which is unsustainable and backward thinking, what actions do you think can be taken, and what do you think we can do here locally to help?
CONGRESSMAN DOUG LA MALFA: “The House passed the solution in 2015 with the Resilient Federal Forest Act by my colleague Bruce Westerman, who by the way, is himself a registered forester educated at Yale University, which is the division that was established by Gifford Pinchot, who was also the founder of the US Forest Service. The approach is simply this. Restore proper management to the public lands. Thin out these overgrown forests before they die out. Use that revenue to further improve our forest management, and solve the fire borrowing problem by placing forest fires on the same par as any other natural disaster.
Unfortunately that bill was passed with bipartisan votes out of the House, was stopped by Senate Democrats under a veto threat. We now have a president who I think will be eager to sign such legislation … We will begin hearings on the Federal Land Subcommittee, we’ll begin hearings this coming month on tree mortality in our western forests, and particularly in the Sierra Nevada. From those hearings, we expect to see a number of bills. A souped up Resilient Federal Forests Bill will be one of them.”
STATE SENATOR JIM NIELSEN: “I’m harboring a little bit of hope that I’ve long lacked in terms of managing our forests. Managing our forests for decades has been to lock them up and don’t touch them. That has resulted in the growth of fuel to the degree that we have these now cataclysmic fires, that in some cases sterilize the land, they get so hot, but we predicated our policies on that. There have been problems with the US Forest Service that even our Cal Fire have had to deal with, where they want to put out the fire, and save structures, and private property, and the US says, “No, no. Let it burn.” That’s been historic policy for a long time. What has changed? Cataclysmic fires. Even here, I watched California, in the Resources Agency, grudgingly in the last year realize that we’ve got to clean some of this up, meaning remove the burned trees and utilize it for some given purpose before it deteriorates and the critters get into it, the bugs.
The next step that needs to be taken though is to manage what happens after. In some cases, you can just let the forest regenerate on its own, but in other cases, you need to be careful, because the first thing that’s going to regenerate is that low, brushy fuel, and that crowds out the larger trees. I think my point, though, there at least has been a recognition in government in California, maybe just a teeny bit in the legislature, that our forests need to be managed, not locked up to be pristine.”
STATE SENATOR TOM BERRYHILL: “I think the governor gets it, too. We got him to come up and take a look at the problem. He knows there’s one; he did declare a state of emergency, and did dedicate some money, but not enough. I think there’s a realization in Sacramento that we’ve got to do something. The environmental community is starting to understand that one cataclysmic fire in one day puts out more carbon than all the cars in California in a year. All we got to do is get them up to the mountains, and take a look at it, and you can make believers out of folks, but it’s getting those damn guys up there into the mountains is like pulling teeth. We all continue to try, but the governor gets it, and when the governor gets it, that has a tendency to trickle down to the rest of the legislature. There is hope that there’s going to be some more money thrown at this thing, and that we can start to clean up these forest floors.”
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