National Voices

Tuesday, Feb 04 2014 11:00 PM

OTHER VIEWS: Water bill only sows divisions during crisis

In this severe drought, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy wants to "ensure any water that does move down the Sacramento River ultimately flows to Kern County and Central California."

The Bakersfield Republican ought to use his clout and ability to help craft a statewide solution -- not simply siphon water away from others who need it just as much.

As it is, McCarthy and congressional Republicans from the south San Joaquin Valley, with support from the entire California Republican delegation, have reintroduced a failed 2011 bill that would ship more water out of the Delta and block efforts to restore the San Joaquin River.

Ron Stork of Friends of the River described the GOP prescription for drought relief as delivering "water that is not there to the parched desert lands of Bakersfield."

Gov. Jerry Brown said HR 3964 is "an unwelcome and divisive intrusion into California's efforts to manage this severe crisis."

California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird has said that legislation favoring "some interests over others in a different part of the state, in the middle of this great water emergency ... is not helpful." He has expressed "strong opposition" to the GOP bill.

Laird points out, in what should be a reality check, that the bill "falsely holds the promise of water relief that cannot be delivered because in this drought, the water simply does not exist."

Pumping more water south of the Delta would get water to farmers on the west side of the southern San Joaquin Valley, but would do nothing to remedy lack of rain and low river flows. It would ensure that more ocean water would encroach in the Delta, which would be destructive for Californians who depend on Delta water. It could even force the state to look elsewhere for flows to save endangered fish in the Delta -- and that could lead them to Don Pedro, New Melones and McClure reservoirs where water for our farmers is stored.

This is no "man-made drought," as Valley Republicans like to claim. Their bill is a bald attempt to favor one group of water users over all others, political theater for an election year. But it also undermines trust at a time when our political leaders need to forge long-term water solutions for what could be a yearslong drought.

Among other things, HR 3964 would:

* Repeal the bipartisan settlement aimed at restoring flows in the San Joaquin River, which once supported spring-run salmon before it started drying up after the Friant Dam was built in the 1940s. This is unnecessary. The settlement allows for flexibility in dry years. For example, due to the current severe drought conditions, no water is allocated for river restoration unless the state gets more rain and snow. Currently, the program is scheduled to receive no restoration flows until March 2015.

* Override the bipartisan state law, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act of 2009, that requires that any actions in the Delta be aimed at achieving co-equal goals of restoring the Delta and improving water supply reliability.

The bill, which is headed to the House floor this week for a vote with no hearings, is more likely to stoke new water wars than to build water solutions in a state where more water exists on paper than in reality. During his days in the Legislature, McCarthy showed an ability to work with Democrats. We trust he hasn't lost that skill for lack of use. He should lead Republicans in a show of statesmanship, not just trying to help his biggest campaign contributors.

-- The Sacramento Bee

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