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Feinstein Introduces $1.3 Billion California Drought Relief Bill

LOS ANGELES – Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a new emergency drought relief bill on Wednesday designed to help water-starved California get through a record four-year water shortage.

The California Emergency Drought Relief Act calls for $1.3 billion to be spent over the next ten years on bolstering water infrastructure, desalination projects, water recycling projects, and environmental protection. The bill would also provide emergency assistance for communities most at risk of running out of water.

The priority placed on environmental protection in Feinstein’s bill stands in marked contrast with GOP-backed legislation that advanced in the House earlier this month.

That bill, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015, was penned by Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford). Valadao’s bill largely ignored environmental concerns in favor of providing more water to farmers in California’s Central Valley agricultural belt.

“I’m hopeful the bill we’re introducing today will serve as a template for the kinds of short-term and long-term solutions California needs to address this devastating drought,” Feinstein said in a statement.

I’ve introduced a lot of bills over the years, and this one may be the most difficult, and a warming climate will only make things worse. For months now my staff and I have held meetings with many interested parties. My state staff has visited almost 50 water agencies, and my Washington staff has consulted closely with federal agencies to ensure the bill adheres to environmental laws. I think the bill we’re introducing today can achieve broad congressional and public support and will be a great help to California.

Feinstein added that she expects the bill to undergo a public committee hearing in the fall before becoming part of a broader, regional drought relief package.

While Feinstein’s bill includes some measures attractive to Republicans, like increased funding for water storage, Republicans are unlikely to support the bill in its current form. In a statement, Valadao said Feinstein’s bill “included some useful provisions while doing little to deliver more water to California famers and families.”

“I remain hopeful we can come to an agreement that can advance through the House and Senate,” Valadao added.

The bill also faces a tough test from environmental groups, who will be watching to see if the Endangered Species Act gets altered in any way. Environmental groups have been adamant in previous negotiations over drought bills that insured endangered fish species remain unaffected by relief measures.

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