Congress Considers Legislation in Response to Drought

Several bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to address the ongoing California drought. California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer introduced a bill in February that would provide congressional direction to federal agencies responsible for implementing federal regulations affecting operations of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project for the duration of the drought emergency declared by Governor Jerry Brown. Representative Jim Costa (D-Fresno) introduced a companion bill in the House.

Recently, Senator Feinstein introduced a revised water bill that drops the $300 million in spending found in the original bill and tweaks other elements as well. The revised bill mandates that federal agencies operate California water projects with “maximum flexibility” to boost irrigation deliveries. It does not specifically authorize big new water projects, and it leaves intact the current San Joaquin River Restoration Program. Feinstein is hoping to fast-track the legislation by securing the support of 60 members to avoid the standard committee review.

Representative David Valadao (R-Hanford), introduced a bill cosponsored by the entire California Republican delegation. The bill is aimed at easing water restrictions under current drought conditions. It would supersede federal environmental regulations and increase the amount of water allocated to farmers and communities in the San Joaquin Valley. It also streamlines water transfers and authorizes construction of two new water storage facilities and the enlargement of two existing facilities. The bill was passed by a vote of 221–191. Gov. Brown opposes the legislation, and the White House has threatened a presidential veto.

Representative Costa introduced three bills to increase water storage. The bills would expedite construction on existing storage projects to improve water reliability across the state. Storage projects included are the San Luis Reservoir, Shasta Dam and the Temperance Flat Reservoir (Upper San Joaquin River Basin Storage).

Representative Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) has introduced drought legislation to provide emergency relief to affected agricultural producers and fishing communities, fund drought relief projects, maintain environmental protections, and ensure that the United States will be better prepared to respond to future droughts and natural disasters. The bill is cosponsored by several California Democrats.

Lastly, Representatives John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) and Doug LaMalfa (R-Redding) have introduced legislation that would authorize a feasibility study and construction of the Sites Reservoir in Colusa County, if deemed feasible. The Sites Reservoir would provide 1.9 million acre-feet of water storage capacity for Northern California.

The Almond Board of California will monitor these bills as they move through the legislative process and keep you up to date on any activity.

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