Feb. 06--WASHINGTON -- The House voted Wednesday night to approve a drought relief bill that could send more water south from the Bay Delta into the Central Valley and Southern California. The bill passed on a mostly party-line vote, 229-191, and was co-sponsored by all 15 California Republicans.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, was the only California Democrat to vote with Republicans. "People in my district deserve a solution that deals with reality," he said, adding that the bill has a "number of benefits" but that "there are problems with the legislation as well."
The legislation, extremely similar to a measure passed by House Republicans in 2011, would require pumping levels from the Bay Delta to return to what they were in 1994, when California and the federal government agreed to the Bay Delta Accord. Pumping since has been curtailed in response to a 2007 court decision that ruled the Delta smelt is a protected species. The House bill would declare the 1994 accords are in compliance with the Endangered Species Act and would reduce contributions to environmental projects by one-third, to 800,000 acre-feet from 1.2 million.
Environmental groups contend the bill would harm area species, especially the Delta smelt. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Davis, said the water would be "stolen ... from the environment, the San Francisco Bay, the salmon." Supporters, though, say the increased water flow is necessary to provide much-needed relief to farmers in the Central Valley.
The bill is expected to be dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are preparing a different approach. Costa, who said he is working closely with Feinstein on the Senate bill, said they hope to introduce it by the end of this week.
Feinstein has emerged as one of the House bill's harshest critics.
House Republicans used a hearing hours before the vote to hammer their message that the Delta spigots must be opened. The hearing was about water storage bills, but the drought relief bill dominated the conversation. The Natural Resources Committee chairman, Rep. Richard "Doc" Hastings, R-Wash., charged that California was "favoring a three-inch fish over human beings." Variations of the line were repeated during debate on the House floor.
The Department of Agriculture announced this week it would allocate $20 million for California farm areas adversely affected by the drought. The funds will be divided into two categories: croplands and grazing lands. Separately, Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack said at a news conference Tuesday that U.S. Forest Service aid for California will be announced today.
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Original headline: House Republicans pass drought-relief bill
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