The Senate overcame a filibuster effort by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to pass the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) early Saturday morning, bringing relief to farmers in the Central Valley — and potential lawsuits by environmental groups.
The final bill passed 78-21, aided in part by provisions that allocate $170 million for water projects in Flint, Michigan, where contaminated drinking water from the local river had created a local health crisis and a presidential campaign issue.
Boxer had vowed to block the bill, which contains a rider that will increase the ability of state and federal water regulators to pump water to California farmers, now suffering through a sixth year of drought. Instead, she relented and merely voted against it, in one of her last acts before retirement.
The rider was negotiated by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). In a rare split from her fellow Californian and liberal Democrat, Boxer blasted the rider in a speech from the Senate floor Friday.
“You take a beautiful bill like WRDA … and then you put a pile of dirt on top of it, which I call the McCarthy rider, and then you stick a little Maraschino cherry on top, which is Flint and a couple of other good things,” Boxer said in her speech, as quoted by the Detroit News. “And then you say, OK, eat the dirt.”
The Sacramento Bee also quoted her as saying: “It’s going to result in pain and suffering among our fishing families … It’s ugly, and it’s wrong, and it’s going to end up at the courthouse door.”
The Bee also notes the historic nature of the bill:
All sides agree the California water package marks the biggest federal shift in the state’s water use since the 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act, which focused more on protecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Farmers hated the CVPIA but, in a mirror image of this year’s water bill, it was included in a bigger package that rolled right over one of the state’s protesting senators.
The Republican senator who was left standing alone in fighting the 1992 bill, John Seymour, was subsequently defeated by Feinstein. One of the other big losers in that earlier legislative fight, the Westlands Water District, is among the victors in this year’s bill, after spending more than $1 million on lobbying in the last two years.
The Natural Resources Defense Council — which sued a decade ago to protect the Delta smelt, leading to additional federal water restrictions — opposed the WRDA, saying last week that it “would threaten thousands of fishing jobs on the West Coast and harm water quality.”
The bill could still be vetoed by President Barack Obama.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.