Congress' Water Resources Bill: Fighting Over CA Water
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congress is expected to vote by Friday on the Water Resources Development Act to improve cities' water infrastructure and help places like Flint, Mich., recover from lead contamination of its drinking water.
Outgoing Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer has been shepherding the bill – until this week, when a rider was attached that has raised some concerns. The rider, from fellow California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein and a number of Republican colleagues, allows some water from Northern California rivers to be diverted to Central Valley farmland.
Attorney Doug Obegi with the National Resources Defense Council said that runs counter to what is needed to save the wild salmon populations in those rivers.
"Well, these fish are already endangered,” Obegi said, "and there's a real risk that we'll actually drive them extinct, wiping them off the face of the earth."
The same rider would also make it much easier to construct dams by eliminating congressional oversight in California and at least 16 other states. According to Obegi, that is contrary to current California law.
Sen. Feinstein has said the rider isn't perfect, but it's the best the bipartisan coalition could do to bring water to San Joaquin Valley farmers.
Obegi said the history of California water law is defined by the old saying, “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting." He said since the 1850s, those who arrived in California could just take the water they needed - and he sees this rider as as a continuation of that tradition.
"Unfortunately, these Republicans want to really undermine and destroy our environment at the behest of these large agribusinesses,” Obegi said. "And that's a trade-off that we're not willing to make, and that Sen. Boxer's not willing to make."
Boxer has said she'll "use every tool at her disposal" to stop the rider, calling it a "poison pill." Congress only has until the end of the week to sort this out.