House Democrats propose drought bill
March 14, 2014
• Most Central Valley Dems sign on
• “An aggressive drought response that is broad, effective, and honors existing laws and water rights”
Help for farmers, ranchers, businesses, and communities suffering from the drought in California and other western states would come through a bill proposed by Democrats in the House of Representatives.
Authored by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, it is co-sponsored by Central Valley Reps. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; and Ami Bera, D-Sacramento, as well as Reps. Grace Napolitano; Peter DeFazio; George Miller; Mike Thompson; Anna Eshoo; Sam Farr; Jackie Speier; Juan Vargas; Alan Lowenthal; Scott Peters, and Matt Cartwright.
Not on the list of co-sponsors is Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, who voted with Republicans in February for a drought relief bill authored by Rep. David Valadao, D-Hanford, who has called the water shortages in the San Joaquin Valley a “man-made water crisis in California that has Californians suffering during the worst drought to hit our state in over a century.”
The Huffman bill provides emergency relief to affected agricultural producers and fishing communities, funds emergency drought relief projects, maintains environmental protections, and ensures that the United States will be better-prepared to respond to future droughts and natural disasters.
“Our bill builds on the constructive efforts by Senator Feinstein and others, including our state legislature and Governor Brown, by offering an aggressive drought response that is broad, effective, and honors existing laws and water rights,” Huffman said.
Ms. Napolitano says the legislation provides short-term relief while work continues on long-term solutions through recycling, conservation, desalination, and storage.
Mr. Huffman says his bill respects existing law and water rights.
The Republican controlled House has already passed its own version of drought relief.
Specific aspects of the bill include:
• Accelerates planning and execution of water supply projects while maintaining critical environmental protections like the National Environmental Policy Act compliance.
• Would bring Army Corps reservoir operations in line with modern science to save water.
• Allows the Secretary of Agriculture to help cover losses caused by the drought.
• Ensures that the damages from California’s drought are properly recognized under the Stafford Act, ensuring Californians receive accurate and adequate disaster relief.
• Cracks down on illegal water diversions for marijuana cultivation.
• Authorizes water planning and management activities to reduce water use in the Klamath Basin in California and Oregon.
• Directs the President to update the National Response Plan and the National Disaster Recovery Framework to address plans for responding to catastrophic drought preparing for longer term, continued drought in California and the western United States.
• Requires the development of a California salmon drought plan to address impacts of drought on wild fisheries, those that support tribal fisheries and the commercial and recreational fishing industry.
• Urges the Secretary of Commerce to immediately declare a fisheries disaster and fast-tracks future processes to respond to disaster conditions, ensuring prompt assistance rather than years after a disaster.
• Requires that water agencies receiving assistance under the legislation are in full compliance with state laws regarding groundwater and agricultural water use.
• Includes sunset provisions ensuring that emergency provisions end once the drought declaration is revoked.
The bill includes $255 million in emergency appropriations to respond to the drought:
• $50 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund for projects in drought-affected states that reduce fire risk or assist water quality and capacity.
• $5 million for the Rural Water and Waste Disposal Program within the Rural Utilities Service to assist with rural water supply projects.
• $30 million for grants under the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.
• $15 billion for grants under the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
• $3 million for the Drug Enforcement Administration to assist in suppression of illegal trespass marijuana grows that diminish available water supply.
• $152 million available to the Bureau of Reclamation for projects, including $52 million for water conservation and efficiency projects, and to develop alternative water supplies, through the WaterSMART and Title XVI programs.
Plus $200 million in emergency disaster assistance including:
• $100 million in emergency assistance for farmers to fund water conservation measures that protect lands and sensitive watersheds.
• $25 million for Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grants that fund community projects to reduce harmful effects of the drought.
• $25 million to the Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants program for water conservation projects and to protect and upgrade water systems. These grants of up to $1 million are to complete projects that boost the availability and quality of drinking water, including in California communities at risk of running out of safe drinking water;
• $25 million in grant funding for public and nonprofit institutions to provide emergency assistance to low-income migrant and seasonal farmworkers harmed by the drought.
• $25 million in grants for private forest landowners to carry out conservation measures in response to drought and wildlife risks.
• $3 million in funding for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to carry out its work to respond to extreme drought conditions, including relocation of the release location and timing of hatchery fish and barging of hatchery release fish.
• $15 million for integrated regional water management projects that focus on water recycling and integrated water management on a watershed or regional scale.