A new bill introduced in the House of Representatives is pushing for new ways to combat California’s epic drought. But it’s doing so based on the premise that environmental policy — not climate change — is making the drought so bad in the state.
The bill, introduced this week by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), would direct officials to release more water through the state’s Central Valley Project, which provides irrigation and city water sources to a large portion of the state’s Central Valley. Under the bill, water flows couldn’t be limited by concerns about fish species like salmon and the Delta smelt unless there was concern over extinction of the species. By ensuring that more water moves through the project’s canals, supporters hope to make water more available to residents. The bill has the backing of California’s entire Republican House delegation, the Hill reports.
Valadao’s bill is based off an idea that’s been cited by Republicans before: that environmentalists have prevented California from building key water infrastructure, in part because of their concerns about the Delta smelt, a threatened fish species that could be nearing extinction. In 2008, in an attempt to protect the fish, the Fish and Wildlife Service moved to restrict the amount of water that’s pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta south to water districts and farms.
Valadao’s office said in a statement that water policy aimed at protecting “certain species of fish listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a significant obstacle hindering water delivery in Central and Southern California.” The bill, the statement said, “will cut red tape holding back major water storage projects that have been authorized for over a decade, which will aid the entire Western United States during dry years.”
Several California Republicans agree with Valadao’s premise.
“Droughts are nature’s fault; water shortages are our fault,” California Rep. Tom McClintock, a supporter of Valadao’s bill, said in a statement. “For a generation, we have failed to build the facilities needed to store water from wet years to have it in dry ones and radical environmental laws have squandered the water we did store. Our water shortage is caused by a shortage of sensible water policy. This bill begins fixing that.”
Some experts disagree with this analysis. According to Andrew Fahlund, deputy director of the California Water Foundation, the real reason California hasn’t built more water infrastructure is that the projects aren’t worth the cost to taxpayers.
“Study after study shows that the three projects most cited by advocates of new infrastructure don’t pass any sort of cost-benefit test,” he told ThinkProgress in April.
And rather than the drought being brought on by environmental policies, scientists have found that the causes of California’s drought can “very likely” be linked to climate change. According to the Stanford scientists, the “extreme atmospheric high pressure” in California is “much more likely to occur today than prior to the human emission of greenhouse gases that began during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s.” That atmospheric pressure is linked to California’s intense dryness.
Indeed, scientists have long warned that high temperatures associated with climate change could mean more precipitation falls as rain instead of snow, decreasing snowpack that’s necessary for water supplies in some regions. That’s part of what’s driving California’s drought, Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, told ThinkProgress.
“There is zero truth to any argument that attempts to characterize the current California drought as man-made,” he said. “All you need to do is look at up the mountains and realize that there is no snow, look at the reservoirs and see that they are nearly empty, and look at last January to see that it was the driest on record. A lack of infrastructure is not the issue when there is nothing to put in it.”