CIRS Blog about Rural California
WASHINGTON — The political terrain appears favorable for a mega-million-dollar irrigation drainage deal, with Congress still fully in Republican hands and California’s sprawling Westlands Water District with influential allies.
But there are complications. One is a legal cloud over a neighboring water district. The other comes with the state’s two Democratic senators, who remain uncommitted.
Legislation putting the drainage deal into effect could be introduced at any time.
“I think I have the support of leadership,” Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, said in an interview.
But with that legislation will come a Capitol Hill fight.
Washington, D.C. — San Joaquin Valley officials picture a world in which:
State Route 99 grows wider in Merced, Madera and Tulare counties. Stronger roads support the region’s heavy dairy tankers. New reservoirs get built. And, not least, some bipartisan cooperation blossoms on Capitol Hill.
Farfetched? Maybe. But this week, elected representatives and staffers from eight Valley counties are making their collective case to an often-fitful Congress. They’re following the adage, sometimes applicable in lobbying as in life, that fortune favors the bold.
“We’re bringing attention to the needs of the Valley, and making sure that all of our legislators know where we stand,” Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O’Brien said Wednesday, adding that “we also get different audiences than we normally get with just the congressmen.”
O’Brien, for instance, was speaking in the Cannon House Office Building, where three House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee staffers were briefing the visitors. In the afternoon, the Valley officials talked about clean air rules at the Environmental Protection Agency.
WASHINGTON —Five years into California’s latest drought, a major water bill compromise can seem as far away as ever.
The perennial conflict, often summed up as fish vs. farms, subtly surfaced again Tuesday at a key Senate hearing. A Western growers’ advocate pleaded for relief, a Trout Unlimited leader urged caution and lawmakers insisted on optimism while conceding the tough road ahead.
“This bill is the product of two years of work (and) 28 drafts,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., adding that her legislation “can produce real water in a manner consistent with the Endangered Species Act.”
California’s two Democratic senators remain somewhat out of sync over proposed water legislation, underscoring its ambiguous future on the eve of a big hearing.
Four months after Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s introduction of her latest California water package, Sen. Barbara Boxer is still evaluating the 185-page bill. Her wait-and-see attitude hints at complex undercurrents, as she supports some parts of Feinstein’s bill while seeking more feedback about other parts.
WASHINGTON - Northern California lawmakers are turning up the heat on the Westlands Water District, with coordinated calls for congressional hearings and tougher Obama administration scrutiny.
Citing recent enforcement action by the Securities and Exchange Commission, House Democrats from outside the San Joaquin Valley on Thursday initiated what one lawmaker termed “an investigation” into the district and its proposed irrigation drainage deal with the administration.
“The Westlands Water District plays by its own rules, and trusting them with an agreement of this magnitude should give every member of Congress serious pause,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday relaunched a big California water bill, in what might be cast as the triumph of hope over experience.
Unveiling her third proposal in the past two years for ways to divide California’s water supply among many competing interests, Feinstein packaged her latest 184-page measure as a reasonable compromise that draws the best from past Capitol Hill efforts.
“Drafting this bill has been difficult, probably the hardest bill I’ve worked on in my 23 years in the Senate,” Feinstein said. “But it’s important, and that’s why we’ve been working so hard, holding dozens and dozens of meetings and revising the bill over and over again.”
As part of the bill’s unveiling, Feinstein disclosed words of encouragement from parties who usually are on opposite sides of the water battle, including Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and water agencies that serve agricultural interests, including the South Valley Water Association, the Westlands Water District and the Kern County Water Agency.
Washington -- The now-distant December of 1988 was a big month for California water lawsuits that would last a generation and eventually land in Congress’ lap, where their ripples linger to this day.
Each of the two major lawsuits, introduced within weeks of each other 27 years ago, offers enduring lessons – in law, in politics and in the long, long time it takes to get things done in Washington.
“Nothing is easy around here,” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said Jan. 13. “Not even a motherhood resolution is easy.”
WASHINGTON -- Angry California Republicans threw in the towel late Thursday, conceding that a California water bill that had divided the state was dead for the year.
In a remarkably acrimonious ending to negotiations that once seemed close to bearing fruit, GOP House members acknowledged the bill’s failure while putting the blame squarely on California’s two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.
“It’s dead, unfortunately,” Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, said in an interview Thursday afternoon, adding in a later statement that “our good faith negotiations came to naught.”
The utter collapse of negotiations means a California water package that in its latest manifestation spanned 92 pages will not be slipped into a much larger, much-pass omnibus federal spending package needed to keep the federal government open. If legislative efforts are revived, they will come in the new year.
WASHINGTON —Ever hopeful lawmakers on Thursday conjured the vision of a compromise California water bill that succeeds instead of fails.
It may be a mirage.
But in a long-awaited hearing, the chairwoman of a key Senate committee zeroed in on some specific, concrete details that could be the basis for real-world legislation. Water storage, recycling and desalination projects could be the foundation for a deal, some believe.
“We’ve got some things we can be building on,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “Clearly, we’ve got some real differences. The way we’re going to work this out is to work together.”
WASHINGTON — Publicly and privately, California lawmakers are pushing to get a big water bill off its current glacial pace.
But history cautions that California legislation this ambitious always takes time, and plenty of it.
Eight years passed between the introduction of California desert protection legislation and its final approval in 1994. More than a decade was needed to complete a deal protecting the redwood trees of Northern California’s Headwaters Forest Reserve. A San Joaquin River restoration bill took three years.
The common denominator to all of these is Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, again going big with a $1.3 billion California water package. The compelling question is whether negotiators can finally reach an elusive agreement. “Every year, we’ve seen the same movie play out over and over again,” Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., said Monday. “And every year, it ends in the same way.”
WASHINGTON — House Republicans are swinging for the fences with an ambitious new, but familiar, California water bill introduced Thursday.
After whiffing last Congress when Democrats controlled the Senate, GOP lawmakers are hoping the political climate is more congenial for their 170-page package that once again includes hot-button items like scaling back a San Joaquin River restoration program.
“Congress cannot make it rain,” said Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., the bill’s chief author, “but we can enact policies that expand our water infrastructure, allow for more water conveyance, and utilize legitimate science to ensure a reliable water supply for farmers and families.”
The legislation speeds studies for water storage projects, including proposals for raising Shasta Dam and building a new reservoir at Temperance Flat on the Upper San Joaquin River. It authorizes some increased water pumping to San Joaquin Valley farms, and replaces a San Joaquin River salmon-and-habitat restoration plan with a less ambitious plan for warm-water fish.
WASHINGTON — California water legislation is starting to trickle across Capitol Hill.
One newly introduced bill would speed approval of Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley. Another would help restore San Francisco Bay habitat. More targeted bills are coming.
So are some frustrations.
“I feel like that pop song, ‘Call Me Maybe,’ ” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif.
By Michael Doyle and William Douglas
WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers from California’s San Joaquin Valley are now at the forefront of challenging party orthodoxy on immigration, a dissident position that brings both promise and peril.
On Thursday, doubling down at a party retreat, Rep. Jeff Denham kept the spotlight on sharp disagreements over immigration control. The move came one day after Denham joined fellow Valley Republican David Valadao and some others in the GOP in opposing strict immigration measures pushed by party leaders.
“I think it’s going to be a renewed debate,” Denham said in an interview Thursday. “It will give us an opportunity to come together on some good reforms.”
WASHINGTON -- Congress is returning to plenty of unfinished California business. Then, it will soon depart again, leaving most of the Golden State goals still unmet.
One California lawmaker hoped this 113th Congress would authorize grants for an Altamont Pass rail project. Some sought to add six new federal judges to serve busy Central Valley courts. Others wanted the San Joaquin Delta declared a “national heritage area.”
But with little time remaining before they resume full-time campaigning, lawmakers coming back Monday know most home-state bills are dying on the vine. Some attrition is typical: bills are always easier to write than to pass. Some failures, though, reflect a particularly toxic Congress.
“Unfortunately, with so many challenges facing our country, this Congress has been dismal,” Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., said Friday. “It has been one of the least productive Congresses in history. It is disappointing and frustrating.”
WASHINGTON — Beneath a placid surface, California lawmakers are furiously churning to keep an anti-drought bill afloat.
They’re counting votes, making tradeoffs and tinkering with language. They’re confronting singular political calculations like: Will a Lake Mead provision for Nevada, home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, cause problems with other Democrats upstream in Colorado?
And, no mean feat, they are meeting.
WASHINGTON — San Joaquin Valley lobbying priorities this week can be summed up simply.
“Water, water, water,” Brenda Veenendaal, senior regional planner with the Fresno Council of Governments, said Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
In separate, but overlapping lobbying trips that formally began Monday, officials from both Fresno and Tulare counties have been seeking support from elected lawmakers, all-important staff and Obama administration higher-ups. These are annual ventures that this year took on a different, wetter cast.
Water projects and drought relief now top the Fresno County COG wish list, which in previous years emphasized roads and rail. In some ways, the state’s well-documented drought emergency has simplified the Valley officials’ sales job, as bipartisan congressional action actually seems possible.
“It seems like they are starting to come out of their bunkers,” said Amarpreet Dhaliwal, mayor of the city of San Joaquin and chair of the Fresno COG Policy Board. “There seems to be some thawing, a little bit of movement.”