News Column

Emergency Drought Bill Sought for California

January 22, 2014

Associated Press

san joaquin river
Emergency drought relief for California could come at the expense of the San Joaquin River restoration (USGS)

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) House Speaker John Boehner is scheduled to visit the Central Valley of California on Wednesday, joining three Republican colleagues to propose emergency legislation aimed at drought relief, a congressional aide said Tuesday.

At the Bakersfield, Calif., stop, Boehner will join Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Rep. David Valadao of Hanford.

The lawmakers are expected to announce a bill that seeks to halt the restoration of the San Joaquin River through 2015. Boehner's visit follows Friday's announcement by Gov. Jerry Brown formally declaring California's drought.

Two other parts of the proposed bill would allow farmers to pump irrigation water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and to form a joint House-Senate committee to tackle long-term water woes.

The proposed legislation will likely receive pushback. Restoration of the San Joaquin River has caused fierce battles spanning years that have pitted farmers in need of irrigation water against groups that wish to bring the salmon runs back to historic levels.

"Salmon, and families (who) depend on them, are the ones we need to act to save now," John McManus, executive director of Golden Gate Salmon Association, said in a statement. "Salmon are dying in the drought-stricken Central Valley rivers and soon that will translate into lost jobs on the coast and inland waterways."

As the nation's leading farming state, California could be in its worst dry spell in a century, unless significant rain falls within the next two months. The parched weather could also wreak havoc during California's notorious wildfire season.

The San Joaquin River starts in the Sierra Nevada east of Fresno and collects at the Friant Dam into Millerton Lake.

It flows a few miles after the dam but dries up. The river resumes downstream with water from the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers, which each have salmon population. Restoration of the San Joaquin River is estimated to cost $1 billion in federal funds.

Among the difficulties, some former river bottom has subsided from pumping, and engineers will need to find ways to send the water uphill along its previous route. Farmland may end up flooding.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Original headline: Calif. emergency drought bill to be introduced


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Source: Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.