Remake of Central Valley water rights moves to vote

February 15, 2012 6:57am
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•  UPDATED @ 11:03 a.m. and 1:06 p.m. with additional reaction

•  House of Representatives expected to vote soon

•  Supported by San Joaquin farmers; opposed by Delta farmers

How water is divvied up in the Central Valley would be remade under a bill authored by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, and co-sponsored by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, that is expected to get a floor vote soon in the House.

Mr. Nunes says the House Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a markup on Thursday for H.R. 1837, dubbed the “Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act.” A markup is usually one of the last committee votes on a measure before it moves to a floor vote.

“This legislation is a comprehensive regional solution to water shortages that have been caused by failed government policies, not actual shortages of water,” says Mr. Nunes. “We have crafted a good bill that not only restores the flow of water but will ultimately make unnecessary the construction of a $12 billion canal to bypass the Bay-Delta.”

But that’s not how everyone sees it.

“Congressman Nunes’ HR1837 is specifically designed for a full on water grab from the Delta. It not only over rides the public trust as defined in the California Constitution and state water laws, it seeks to promote a large corporate agribusiness economy, all at the expense of Delta family farmers,” says Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, a nonprofit that works in the areas of public education and outreach “so that all Californians recognize this region as part of California’s natural heritage, deserving of restoration.”

Ms. Barrigan-Parrilla says the recently released Economic Sustainability Report authored by the Delta Protection Commission shows that the Delta agriculture economy is worth $4.2 billion annually and produces tens of thousands of jobs.

“Nunes wants to make sure that water flows to his supporters like Stewart Resnick of Paramount Farms, and the 40 families or so who run the Westlands Water District, rather than for the benefit of middle class Californians and for fisheries which support working fishermen,” she says.

According to Mr. Nunes, his bill would end what he calls policies that have failed for 20 years as well as restore water rights, cut costs, and pave the way for “measurable environmental improvements.”

And a fellow Valley congressman, Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, whose district includes much of the Delta, is crtical of the bill.

“This bill is yet another example of a water scheme created behind closed doors and without the input of the Delta communities,” he says. “This bill is deeply-flawed, and it will rob the Delta of clean water and reduce the quality of the water that remains. To steal water from one community to benefit another is unconscionable and would have disastrous consequences for the Delta communities.”

The view from a Fresno congressional seat is different.

“The Central Valley has gotten the short end of the stick for far too long,” says Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno. “This bill addresses a number of issues that move us toward our shared goal of restoring a sustainable and reliable water supply for Valley farmers. However, without a willingness to engage others in the process, this legislation will never bring more water to our Valley because it is not bipartisan and won’t see the light of day in the Senate.”

The bill is also co-sponsored by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto.

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Comments on this story

Chris Gulick 2/15/12 10:51 AM
I urge all readers to actually read this bill and further to contact your elected representatives demanding that they denounce in no uncertain terms this blatant water grab.

Adrian 2/15/12 1:51 PM
This article has informed me only that there is a bill, and that the bill has supporters who say positive things, and opponents who say things negative things.

Corey Cate 2/15/12 1:54 PM
The Central Valley has gotten the lion's share for a long long time. The honorable Costa forgets time and money and the vast quantity of product that has resulted from the subsided water that has been part and parcel of the profit and growth of the area he represents... OR he conveniently forgets the ecological disaster downstream that has been ALSO part of the result over time, due to profit of Central Valley agricultural business and the merits of success. NO ONE I KNOW bemoans the success of the food producing industries, but they do bemoan the impacts to others, and insolent obstruction of facts when it comes to true costs and true damage. The cost of food is part of the equation, but the cost of damaged rivers and the health of Californians must be recognized in any legitimate dialog. Nunes or Birmingham are not what I would call good at dialogue. They are good at getting what they want and making others pay for their benefit.

calvin smith 2/20/12 7:40 AM
Trying to understand how this hurts delta farmers when the water will continue to flow by their irrigation pumps as it travels to the State/Federal pumps near Tracy. Is the water somehow unavailable for diversion? I thought the Delta farmers had riparian rights?

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