Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) released a so-called “discussion draft” of a new proposed water bill on Thursday that aims to provide both short- and long-term solutions to California’s record drought.
The California Long-Term Provisions for Water Supply and Short-Term Provisions for Emergency Drought Relief Act would allocate $1.3 billion in funding for state water storage, recycling, and desalination programs while also providing immediate assistance to communities hit hardest by the drought.
The bill also attempts to find compromise between state farmers and environmental groups by directing tens of millions of dollars to environmental protection programs, and ensuring that the Endangered Species Act remains unaltered, while seeking to make water pumping for famers more efficient and less reliant on government legislation.
“In my 23 years in the Senate, this has been the most difficult bill to put together,” Feinstein said in a statement. “The maxim that whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting is alive and well in California.”
The bill focuses on environmental protection programs for short-term relief, including the authorization of real-time monitoring to protect fish species and operational provisions that govern the usage of pumps to move water. In addition, the bill provides water agencies the ability to pump water at levels they see fit using real-time monitoring data, and also allows agencies the ability to increase pumping levels during winter months.
In the long term, the bill authorizes $1.3 billion for water storage, recycling and desalination projects, including funding for a new federal grant program that helps communities at risk of running out of water.
Feinstein said she would meet with House lawmakers, water districts, environmental groups and farmers over the next several days to discuss the specifics of the bill.
“This bill will not satisfy every water interest in the state, but we have tried mightily to listen and absorb commentary from interested parties,” Feinstein said. “The bill reflects many meetings between Democrats and Republicans, water districts, cities, rural communities, farmers, fishermen and a number of environmental groups. This is a bill that offers real help to California while adhering to the laws and biological opinions that protect fish and wildlife.”
The new proposal is just the latest chapter in an increasingly tangled and contentious battle between Republicans and Democrats over how best to solve California’s crippling drought.
In July, the GOP-led House passed its own water bill, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015, authored by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA). The bill prioritized the availability of water to farmers in the state’s Central Valley agricultural center, while largely ignoring the environmental provisions favored by Democrats. The Obama administration promptly vowed to veto the bill.
Later that month, Feinstein proposed a $1.3 billion Senate bill that largely mirrors the new proposal, however House Republicans have not yet considered that bill.
In December, House Republicans from California lashed out at Feinstein for blocking drought relief language from a larger omnibus spending bill. Republicans claimed the language of the drought fix was composed with bipartisan support, but Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer claimed they had neither seen nor signed off on the language before its attempted insertion into the larger piece of legislation. At the time, Feinstein said that she would introduce a Senate bill within the week that would be more acceptable to both parties.
In a statement Thursday, Valadao said Feinstein’s bill would not provide farmers the water they need to grow food during the drought, but expressed hope that the bill would pass the Senate so that the both chambers could come together to iron out the differences between the two bills.
“While [Sen. Feinstein] was finally able to put forward a proposal, there is significant work to be done,” said Valadao. “With millions of gallons of water flowing out into the ocean every day, throwing taxpayer dollars at this problem will not provide those suffering with the drought relief they so desperately need.”