New Battlefront Over California Water

Garamendi warns of a “serious water war” if Nunes bill passes

Lawmakers traded punches on Capitol Hill this morning over the future of California’s water.

(Photo: University of California)

In a contentious hearing before the House Subcommittee on Water & Power, Delta Democrat John Garamendi warned that a Republican-sponsored bill to ensure farm water in the Central Valley would start a “serious water war.”

“Are you guys kidding?”, Garamendi asked his congressional colleagues. “You really want to start a serious water war in California? And you think that’s going to solve your problems and get you more water? This is really, really terrible public policy.”

The proposed policy at issue is the San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act (HR 1837), sponsored by Republican Devin Nunes of Fresno.

Environmentalists say the bill (HR 1837) would gut efforts to restore the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Nunes says it’s essential to save farms and jobs.

“You only have a war from one side, and that’s from the radical environmental groups that are massacring the people who live in our communities.”

During the hearing, Republicans referred to “massive unemployment” in the Central Valley, that they say is linked to lower deliveries from state and federal water projects in recent years. The GOP-controlled subcommittee’s website includes a backgrounder entitled “The Man-made California Drought,” a catch phrase that refers to how environmental regulations have squeezed water deliveries to Valley farms. But environmental groups have cited studies from UC Davis and the University of the Pacific in Stockton that refute the economic damage.

Nunes singled out the threatened Delta smelt for special contempt. He showed photos of smelt on the menu at a Chicago tavern, saying that elsewhere, “smelt are for eating. In California, smelt are for saving.” At one point he threatened the federal Bureau of Reclamation with budget cuts if its staff “has time to run around saving fish.”

Opponents claim that the bill, even if passed piecemeal, would unravel current planning at the state level to attain “co-equal goals” of a reliable water supply and a sustainable ecosystem in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Garamendi said, “I hear my colleagues talk about states rights ad nauseam and yet in this legislation you are taking away the ability of the state of California to regulate its own water.”

California Natural Resources chief John Laird testified that the Nunes bill would “overturn 100 years of water law.” Other members of the panel expressed concerns that if passed, the bill could set a precedent for federal preemption of water regulation across the West. Nunes admits that the bill’s language can be improved. Democrats have called for another hearing on the bill.

  • John Striper

    It’s hard to understand how any Californian can dismiss any of our wildlife to extinction as the three Republican Congressmen behind this bill seem to be doing. it doesn’t seem to matter at all to them that if their bill were to become law we’d likely be sending delta smelt, winter and spring run salmon and probably other species to extinction. We already saw this movie with the California grizzly bear that graces our state flag and we came within a whisker of driving sea otters and condors to extinction.

    Congressman Nunes may know something about the hay and cotton his wealthy constituents grow but he obviously knows nothing about the coast of his own state. He hasn’t a clue about the size and gear of a salmon boat versus a tuna boat versus a swordfish boat versus a squid boat. He thinks they’re all interchangeable. I guess he’s about as informed as a coastal resident who thinks that a farmer set up with a dairy operation can easily switch over to an orchard growing operation.

    He says it was the government that shut the salmon fishermen down. He’d prefer that fishery regulators had sat on their hands, ignored their obligation to manage the fishery and set a fleet of boats on a very small stock of fish that existed in 2008 and 2009 due to over pumping of the delta to serve Nunes’s constituents. Hard to imagine Rep. McCarthy and Rep. Denham are allowing themselves to be led around by Nunes.