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House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy: Water bill is no 'big-government boondoggle'

On July 10, the Times' editorial board wrote in opposition to the House's latest response to the drought.

I strongly disagree with the editorial. The House’s bill responding to the drought accomplishes much more than the editorial board gives credit for, and the alternative solutions the board proposed would do little to solve our water problems. Below are a few points where the editorial board and I just don’t see eye to eye.

The Times said that this water bill -- the Western Water and American Food Security Act -- is longer than the ones that preceded it, but contains much of the same substance and offers little in the way of actual drought relief while also undermining environmental protections.

The reason this bill is longer is implied in the name -- it applies to the entire area affected by the drought, not just California. The bill also provides drought relief by reforming regulatory guidelines to allow more water to flow to the southern part of the state. It also creates a process to increase storage infrastructure that hardly results in “paltry” yields for our communities, as The Times claims. In fact, the dams alone could potentially yield as much water as the governor set out to conserve in his April 1 rationing mandate.

And much of the substance of this bill is informed by bipartisan negotiations with Sen. Dianne Feinstein last year -- which includes no changes to the Endangered Species Act.

The Times also claims that this bill is “moving forward with no hearings,” which, while technically true, incorrectly implies that the House is moving the bill forward in a secretive way.

However, this will be the third California water bill in two years that will have been debated in the House, and the drought has been the focus of the Natural Resources Committee for years. Over the last six years alone, the full committee or subcommittees have held 27 hearings on California, Western water and drought issues. It might be reasonable to claim that people have different approaches on how best to address the drought, but this process has assuredly not been happening behind closed doors.

In its editorial, the Times also said that the Republican House “ought to reject the bill as a big-government boondoggle.”

I share the L.A. Times editorial board's concern about fiscal prudence, which House Republicans have been championing since taking the majority. I wish that same fiscal prudence would apply to The Times' opinions on the $90-billion high-speed rail "boondoggle." But I digress. The editorial board's critique here is misplaced; it is difficult to label a bill that the Congressional Budget Office said would actually reduce the deficit as a "big-government boondoggle."

The Times then presents a Democrat alternative bill that, in its words, “would keep intact a process under which scientists rather than politicians determine how much flow through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta is needed to protect endangered fish species.”

But unfortunately, science has not swayed California water policy for years. The last biological opinions were adopted six years ago. Has science stopped since then? Of course not. The House bill ensures decisions are grounded in updated and thorough scientific methods instead of results from the past preferred by certain special interests.

Lastly, The Times points to what they describe as positive developments in water policy such as the governing of groundwater to a voter-approved water bond championed by Gov. Jerry Brown. But one of the main reasons communities have been reduced to using more groundwater is because Sacramento and Washington did not do enough to prepare for the drought and irrational policies keep diverting water out to the ocean. Nobody wants to draw down our underground reserves, but in such circumstances people have few options.

Overall, Gov. Brown's and President Obama’s "solution" has been one of conservation and resigning our state to steady decline. We have a different vision. With meaningful changes to our water-management systems and regulatory regime, we can create a future of increased prosperity for California and the other Western states. This bill is a good start, and we look forward to passing it out of the House and continuing the debate in the Senate so that we can finally have policy that benefits all Californians. 

The writer is the U.S. House majority leader.

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