California State, Federal Leaders Strike Bipartisan Water Deal

San Luis Reservoir (Joel Pollak / Breitbart News)
Joel Pollak / Breitbart News

Outgoing California Governor Jerry Brown has reached a deal with U.S. House Republican leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to extend the 2016 Water Infrastructure for Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which would provide more water to farmers and fund water storage in the state, to 2021.

The bipartisan deal, which would need to be approved by Congress and signed into law by President Trump before year’s end, would give farmers more water in exchange for requiring rural water contractors to fund the restoration of fish habitat. It would also provide $670 million for new water projects, such as raising the height of the Shasta Dam and possibly expanding the San Luis Reservoir. In return, Congress — and President Donald Trump — would agree to support Brown’s California Waterfix project, which would build twin tunnels under the California delta.

The deal appears to be the agreement Brown and incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom had in mind when they asked the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to delay a decision on the controversial Bay-Delta Plan, which would require average flow levels in the San Joaquin River tributaries to be maintained at 40% of “unimpeded” flow, effectively diverting water from agricultural communities in an effort to boost vulnerable fish populations.

Environmentalists are upset by the deal — just as they were when the WIIN was first negotiated in 2016, in the last days of President Barack Obama’s administration. They support the Bay-Delta Plan and oppose the California Waterfix, which would export more water from the Delta to consumers in the dry southern regions of the state. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is going to bat for the greens, breaking with fellow Democrat Feinstein to oppose the deal.

As the Sacramento Bee notes, the passage of the WIIN extension could depend on the outcome of the budget fight in Congress that will take up the remainder of the lame-duck session. The new water deal may not survive into the new year unless it is finalized now, because Democrats will take over the U.S. House, and Newsom, thought to be even closer to environmental interests than Brown has been, will take over the California governor’s mansion.

There is another obstacle to the deal, obscure yet potent: the Delta Stewardship Council is holding hearings later this month to consider whether the California Waterfix is consistent with a state conservation plan for the Delta. Environmentalists and local community activists hope to use that process to stop or at least slow Brown’s project. That, in turn, could reset debates over water policy in the state as the Brown administration fades into history.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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