The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015, legislation geared toward the modernization of California and Western water policies with the goal of availing more water to local communities.
The bill focuses on obstacles posed by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in terms of the water quantities dedicated to protect certain species in Central and Southern California. The legislation would also require federal agencies to use current data when making regulatory decisions, which has the potential to avail more water to drought stricken communities.
Local U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) spoke on the legislation, which included two of his amendments: to study and eliminate the threat of predatory fish and to increase storage in New Melones reservoir.
“Dealing with some common-sense issues like predator fish – why would we try to save fish only to allow them to be eaten by a non-native fish that eats 98 percent of the fish that we’re spending millions of dollars to provide?” questioned Denham. “That is not an environmental solution any more than trucking fish around a river because the river can’t handle the fish.”
The legislation also calls for additional storage at the New Melones Dam, which has been a source of contention relating to the California drought, as it works in conjunction with the New Melones Lake which functions as a primary irrigation and water supply to the Valley.
The bill would require the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation to work with local water and irrigation districts within the Stanislaus River Basin to make certain the water storage available through the Draft Plan of Operations in New Melones Reservoir (DRPO) which relates to water conservation programs, conjunctive use projects, water transfers, rescheduled project water and other projects that have the potential to maximize water storage and beneficial use of resources.
“This bill moves us in the right direction,” said Denham. “This will help farms stay in business. This will allow us to continue to have jobs in the Central Valley and a vibrant food supply for the rest of the country.”
The legislation requires any storage programs at the reservoir to be made under a valid water right consistent with the state water transfer guidelines and any other applicable water laws; the entities would be responsible to inform Congress of progress.
Passing with a 245-176 vote in the House, with the support of five Democrats including, Central Valley Rep. Jim Costa (D-Merced), who applauded the passage and called it “an important step towards fixing our broken water system and providing relief to the families of the drought-ravaged San Joaquin Valley and California.”
“This legislation was developed in an inclusive approach that utilizes the most modern science to increase the flexibility of water delivery in the short-term and provide a streamlined process to increase water storage in the long-term, thereby bringing desperately needed water to our Valley,” said Costa.
Costa introduced an amendment that was included in the final bill to promote accountability and transparency to current environmental water releases by requiring data collection and reporting of measured outcomes.
If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the legislation would give federal regulators direction and flexibility to capture water during periods of greater precipitation, which could be used to increase California water supplies.