House Republicans Pass Shortsighted California Drought Bill Along Party Lines

CREDIT: shutterstock

On Wednesday the House of Representatives passed a bill meant to address the crippling drought blanketing California. However, without any support across the aisle, opposition from Democratic senators and a White House veto threat, the action was mostly seen as a political ploy to drum up controversy over the water crisis and possibly score political points.

Approved largely along party lines in a 229-191 vote, the bill would curtail environmental regulations and permanently halt restoration efforts along the San Joaquin River, California’s second largest river, in an effort to provide more irrigation flows to the state’s massive agricultural industry.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), one of the key backers of the bill and a climate change denier said of California’s urban populations:

They never liked the fact that farmers and farmworkers were making what was once a dry area of the state the Garden of Eden of this world. They don’t want to admit to themselves when they live in the beautiful cities of Hollywood and San Francisco, all these great cities on the coast of California, that it’s a desert. They don’t have any water either.

Nunes authored a very similar bill in 2012 that passed the House and died in the Senate.

It’s true that Californians both rural and urban are feeling the heat of serious water shortages. 2013 was the state’s driest on record and snowpack, a key provider of drinking water, is abysmally low. In January Governor Jerry Brown declared the state officially in drought, asking everyone to conserve 20 percent of their water use. Brown mentioned climate change in his address, which is widely regarded by scientists as exacerbating the current situation. The House bill makes no mention of climate change.

Earlier this week, Brown responded to the Republicans’ bill proposal, calling it “an unwelcome and divisive intrusion into California’s efforts to manage this severe crisis,” and that it “falsely suggests the promise of water relief when that is simply not possible given the scarcity of water supplies.”

The passing of the House bill does help indicate the severity of the situation and highlight the efforts being made to address it across the political spectrum. This week Obama administration officials announced drought aid for California, and Democratic California Senator Dianne Feinstein is working on a bill that will likely be introduced with companion legislation in the House by California Democrats.

“Each day I monitor the California drought, and each day brings more concern,” Feinstein said Wednesday in a written statement.

On Monday the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees flows down the San Joaquin River, halted the restoration releases for at least the next year to provide water for the 30,000 people in nearby small communities who face the prospect of running out of water this summer. The Bureau of Reclamation has a legal obligation to provide water for the health and safety of the people. According to officials, 17 communities across the state are in danger of running out of water within 60 to 120 days.

“While no one wants to experience these drought conditions,” Alicia Forsythe, Bureau of Reclamation manager of the restoration project, said, “we want to learn as much as possible so we can be better prepared for any future conditions once salmon return to the San Joaquin River.”