California’s congressional delegation continued to wrangle over how to respond to the Golden State’s water crisis Thursday when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) released what she called a "discussion draft" of proposed legislation.
Feinstein said in a statement that the bill addresses long-term and short-term water concerns.
“In my 23 years in the Senate, this has been the most difficult bill to put together. The maxim that whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting is alive and well in California,” she said.
The bill does not mandate how much water should be pumped from the Central Valley Project or the State Water Project, which move water from Northern California to farms and cities to the south. Those decisions would be left in the hands of state and federal officials.
For the short term, the legislation includes provisions aimed at capturing water from El Niño storms. It would allow water agencies to increase pumping during winter storms, and they would no longer be required to "pay back" the increase by reducing pumping later.
For long-term water needs, it authorizes $1.3 billion in funding for Western states for desalination, recycling and storage.
“This bill will not satisfy every water interest in the state, but we have tried mightily to listen and absorb commentary from interested parties,” Feinstein said.
She said she will meet over the weekend with environmental groups, farmers and water districts and next week with House members.
“The bill reflects many meetings between Democrats and Republicans, water districts, cities, rural communities, farmers, fishermen and a number of environmental groups. This is a bill that offers real help to California while adhering to the laws and biological opinions that protect fish and wildlife,” she said.
When the text of the draft was released, House members were on recess and the Senate had adjourned ahead of a massive winter storm expected to hit Washington on Friday. Staff members for several House members said the release was a surprise.
Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford), whose water plan passed the House last year, said the two sides could come together to work on a compromise if the Senate approved Feinstein’s proposal.
“There is significant work to be done. With millions of gallons of water flowing out into the ocean every day, throwing taxpayer dollars at this problem will not provide those suffering with the drought relief they so desperately need,” he said in a statement.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) said in a statement that Feinstein’s draft is similar to legislation she has proposed that the Senate refused to consider.
“It’s ridiculous, especially given that millions of gallons are flowing to the sea daily and farmers face zero allocations this spring. The people of the valley should not confuse motion with action,” he said.
Rep. Jerry McNerney’s spokesman said the congressman hadn’t seen a copy of Feinstein's legislation. The Stockton Democrat, who is working on his own water bill, said he will meet with Feinstein to discuss water policy next week.
California’s 55-member congressional delegation has warred publicly and privately in recent months as they’ve tried to reconcile various water policy proposals.
Valadao’s bill passed the House in June, but the White House signaled at the time that President Obama would veto it. The House bill aimed to funnel more water to San Joaquin Valley growers by reducing the amount used to support endangered fish populations. A bill sponsored by Feinstein, which focuses on water storage, desalination and other projects, hasn’t been considered by the Republican-controlled Senate.
The two sides say they were close to a compromise bill when, as the House and Senate rushed to finish their work before the December holidays, California Republicans tried to insert a partially negotiated water plan into a must-pass spending bill.
Feinstein balked, accusing Republicans of implying that she supported the plan. Democrats were furious that the language might be included without public input.
When the language wasn’t included in the bill, Republicans sought to peg the failure on Feinstein. She responded by saying she’d file a new Senate version.
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Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics