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'Welcome to California water wars': State's congressional delegation debates water plans on the House floor

Tomas Garcia has been without running water for the last two years. He gets by with a water tank in his frontyard. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Tomas Garcia has been without running water for the last two years. He gets by with a water tank in his frontyard. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

House Republicans are making another push for a bill addressing California's drought, adding the text of a measure by Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) to two pieces of legislation headed to the Senate.

The House passed Valadao's bill almost a year ago, but the Senate has refused to take it up. His legislation focuses on funneling more water to San Joaquin Valley growers by reducing the amount used to support endangered fish populations.

The Senate is reviewing a bill proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) as part of a broad package of water bills for Western states.

Including the text of Valadao's bill in either measure would force the two chambers to reconcile the versions of the bill.

On Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats from Caifornia's 53-member House delegation lined up to debate the inclusion of Valadao's measure in the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for fiscal 2017.

The White House signaled this week that Valadao's water legislation would prompt a veto of the appropriations bill if it reached his desk.

The House also will vote to include the language in the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016.

Here are some highlights from Tuesday's back and forth among some California lawmakers.

Valadao held up a photo of tarp-covered homes in his district along arid dirt he called a shantytown.

"This is not in a Third World country. This is in the United States of America, this is right here in California, and this is something that's happening in these communities because of this water being wasted," he said.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) argued that House Republicans have repeatedly met privately with Democrats to craft legislation the whole delegation can live with, but have been publicly stymied.

"There were more Democrats than there were Republicans and we stayed months in there talking. And we came to a lot of agreements. Maybe some people that were in the room won’t say that on the outside, but on the inside they agreed to a lot of pieces of the legislation," he said.

My constituents can’t and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Water is not a luxury. It is a necessity, and we need it now more than ever.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield)

Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton) sponsored an amendment to pull the Valadao text out of the bill. A vote on the amendment wasn't held Tuesday night.

"These provisions would undermine 40 years of progress," the Democrat said. "The provisions in the bill will weaken the Endangered Species Act and set a precedent of putting aside environmental protections."

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) said that gutting the Endangered Species Act and ignoring the Clean Water Act to just turn on the pumps would be the "death knell of the delta."

Gentlemen and ladies, welcome to California water wars. This is not the way to handle it.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove)

Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno was the only Democrat to speak in support of including Valadao's measure, saying that at least it would provide some relief.

“In the absence of getting a comprehensive water bill passed into law, which I have not given up hope for and my colleagues on both sides are still working on [on] a bipartisan basis with Sen. Feinstein, I hope my colleagues in the meantime will join me in supporting the provisions in this bill that Congressman Valadao has been able to provide that will in fact contain relief to the people of California who we represent and who have been most impacted by this drought,” he said.

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