House 'Drought Relief' Bill Would Eviscerate Environmental Protections

By Dan Bacher | December 6, 2014 | On December 2, Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21) introduced controversial water legislation ...

By Dan Bacher | December 6, 2014 |

On December 2, Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21) introduced controversial water legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives purported to provide “short- term relief” from California’s water crisis. 

“I will not let this year end without exhausting every possible option to bring relief to the Central Valley,” Valadao vowed. 

However, environmental and fishing groups and Northern California Congress Members quickly responded to the measure, slamming the bill for being a “wish list” dictated by San Joaquin Valley corporate agribusiness interests "to the politicians they hold in thrall."' 

In response, Barbara Boxer late on Wednesday released a statement that "this measure could reignite the water wars by overriding critical state and federal protections for California," all but ensuring that the bill will be die until the Republican-dominated Senate and House take over next year. 

There is no doubt that Valadao and his fellow San Joaquin Valley Congressmen will make the passage of this legislation a priority in 2015. 

Valadao claims H.R. 5781, the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014, “provides eighteen months of relief (two water years) while protecting the State Water Project and protecting Northern California water rights.” 

Rep. Valadao stated, “This well thought out, common sense legislation contains no controversial measures for either Party. Not only will this legislation provide a temporary eighteen month solution, it will also help ensure negotiations between the Senate and the House continue.” 

Original cosponsors of the legislation include Reps. David G. Valadao (CA-21), Kevin McCarthy (CA-23), Ken Calvert (CA-42), Jim Costa (CA-16), Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Tom McClintock (CA-04), and Devin Nunes (CA-22). 

Environmental groups took strong issue with Valadao’s claim that the “legislation contains no controversial measures for either party,” pointing out that it would eviscerate Endangered Species Act protections, overrule the Delta smelt biological opinions and increase pumping from the Delta. This would take place at a critical time when fisheries desperately need water flows to recover from the drought. 

In a statement, the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) said HR 5781 “purports to solve California’s drought-induced water shortages,” but “will do nothing of the sort.” 

“HR 5781 mandates water deliveries to all Central Valley Project and State Water Project contractors – regardless of the water available in storage,” according to C-WIN “This assures ‘dead pools’ in our reservoirs if the drought continues, meaning there will be no water available when urban ratepayers and industry need it most for basic survival.” 

The group also said the bill provides for a 30-day federal review of all projects and operations that “would provide additional water supplies.” This could ultimately result in the fast-track approval of ruinously expensive, environmentally destructive and ultimately inefficient schemes, including new dams. 

Finally, C-WIN blasted the legislation for allowing for expedited water transfers, “putting the ecological stability of our North State rivers and the reserves of our aquifers at risk.” 

“This bill will actually perpetuate our drought emergency by giving away all the water in storage to Big Ag,” said Tom Stokely, water policy analyst for the California Water Impact Network. “It will drain Trinity Lake, depleting the last cold water reserve available for Klamath and Trinity River salmon and steelhead. We’ll see fish kills that make the great die-off of 2002 look minor by comparison." 

“No matter how you cut it, this bill is an utter disaster. We’re calling on Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to oppose this legislation in the Senate. They need to step up and protect California’s water supplies, urban ratepayers, environment, family farms and fisheries,” Stokely concluded. 

For more information about C-WIN, go to 

Restore the Delta (RTD), opponents of Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the salmon-killing peripheral tunnels, criticized Representative David Valadao for trying to push through a “drought relief” measure that would allow more water for Westlands’ and Kern Water Districts’ mega-growers in the midst of a severe drought. 

“Congressman Valadao’s bill is more of the same from this Congress that is bent on circumventing state water rights and stopping state and federal agencies from determining and implementing safe water export levels for San Francisco Bay-Delta fisheries, Delta farms, and Delta communities,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. 

“The sponsors of this legislation favor big industrial growers who have planted tens of thousands of acres of almonds and other permanent crops in the midst of the drought, and those who seek to profit from selling water to the detriment of Northern California rivers, groundwater supplies, and the Bay-Delta estuary,” added Barrigan-Parrilla. 

“Members of Congress are manipulating the impacts of drought conditions to serve wealthy special interests. They’re framing the bill as non-controversial, and bipartisan, but it would smother Endangered Species Act protections, overrule the Delta smelt biological opinions, and increase pumping from the Delta, when fisheries need flows presently to recover from the drought,” she stated. 

“These same Congressional Representatives never consider what will be the economic impacts on the Bay-Delta economy as water quality and fisheries continue to deteriorate from decades of over pumping the Delta. They continue to exclude the 4 million residents of the Delta region, even though their economic and environmental well-being is tied to the health of the region. We are tired of their ongoing political assault on our communities,” concluded Barrigan-Parrilla. 

The Northern California Congressional Delegation on December 3 issued a statement blasting the "flawed, discriminatory House Republican water bill." ( ) 

Northern California Representatives Jared Huffman (D-02), George Miller (D-11) Mike Thompson (D-05), Doris Matsui (D-06), Jerry McNerney (D-09), John Garamendi (D-03), and Ami Bera (D-07) stated: 

“With just a few days left in the legislative session, the House plans to pass yet another divisive, dishonest, and potentially devastating California water bill without any public input or legislative oversight. This is unconscionable, and just the latest chapter in Republicans’ reckless approach to micromanaging the state’s water during one of the worst droughts in our history. 

“The idea that this bill is a ‘compromise’ is laughable. It is clear that this bill was thrown together without any input from anyone other than those who stand to benefit from its passage. This bill was not reviewed by the Natural Resources Committee, nor has it received input from federal agencies, the state, affected local water agencies, the fishing industry, tribes, or communities. Legislation this sweeping should be the subject of public hearings and input from all affected stakeholders. 

“The bill makes it more difficult for state and federal agencies to make real-time water decisions, undermines state water rights priorities, misstates current law, and explicitly overrides the Endangered Species Act. These sweeping changes would place the west coast’s environment, tribes, communities, and the fishing industry in harm’s way in the next drought year. 

“The drought does not stop at the edge of congressional districts, yet this bill insulates some parts of the state from the tough water decisions that will be made in the next year. We’re all in this together, and Congress should not tie water managers’ hands nor should we address drought conditions in some parts of the state at the expense of others.” 

You can watch Congressman Jared Huffman speaking on the Delta fisheries and northern California water supplies in the hearing on H.R. 5781 at: 

For more information, go to:

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