“Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.”
-attributed to Mark Twain
The fight over who gets to use California’s water spilled again on the floor of the House of Representatives. The same fractures in the water wars showed up again: farmers vs. fisherman; North vs. South; the Central Valley vs. the rest of the state; Republicans vs. Democrats.
But, on Wednesday (July 13), it was a victory for the Valley congressional delegation and Republicans, with the House passing HR 23, the latest plan to manage California’s water and maybe expedite the building of long-sought after dams. Past efforts have died in the Washington bureaucracy. Now, with Republicans controlling the House, Senate and White House, there is optimism that the Gaining Responsibility on Water Act of 2017 (or “GROW”) may become law.
California congressmen Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove/Roseville/Mariposa) and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Crescent City/Eureka/San Rafael) captained their debate teams, allotting time to their respective party for the nearly two hour, 45 minute debate. Huffman continually called for fact checking when responding to statements made by the GOP. McClintock said there needs to a fact checking of the fact checker.
McClintock led off for the Republicans. He laid out the benefits of water and refuted standard environmentalist arguments, noting the amount of water it takes to make a cheeseburger or denim jeans. “Droughts are nature’s fault, water shortages are our fault.
Huffman complained that the bill had not gone through committee and the lack of transparency in the bill. He accused his Republican colleagues of aiding their farmer friends. “Make no mistake, if enacted, this bill will hurt a lot of people,” Huffman stated. “It takes water away from fisherman, from tribes, the environment, Delta farmers and others in order to redistribute it primarily to a small group of some of the nation’s biggest and most politically connected agri-business interests.”
Huffman also said this bill would override state sovereignty and would hurt fishermen and tribal lands he represents.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Fresno/Visalia) was next. In almost a defiant fashion, Nunes began by saying “I’m not going to respond to the other side of the aisle, because some of things on this floor are so ridiculous they don’t deserve a response.” He went on to accuse the “left-wing” government of overreach in taking property rights.
Nunes, with pointer in hand, used charts to discuss water deficits, dumping water into the oceans, the potential loss of agriculture land; and flooding problems, with a picture of the Friant Dam. Nunes then showed a picture of a woman scooping water from a large trash can.
In between speakers, Huffman offered rebuttals to points made by Republicans. Huffman retorted about the “inconvenient truth” of water flows to the ocean, offended that it is being called wasteful. Huffman noted that the water prevents salt water intrusion from the ocean. Huffman then introduced the next speaker, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Santa Rosa/Napa/Vallejo).
Thompson said he was standing up for the water users in his district. “This is a disappointing effort to take care of the San Joaquin Valley’s massive agri-businesses at the expense of everyone else,” Thompsons said on the floor. Thompson called HR 23 an end-run that would gut fish and water life rules.
Then, the bill’s author, Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford/Bakersfield/Kerman) presented his showing of charts, bemoaning the wasting of water. He then reminded his colleagues of all the fruits and vegetables grown in the Valley. Valadao then showed a picture of a shanty town camp in Mendota, highlighting farmers needing to know when and how much water they will get.
Calling drought a way of life, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento) voiced her objections to HR 23. She called for better technology and recycling. She said it was “misleading” that HR 23 would solve drought problems. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Yorba Linda/La Habra/Chino Hills/Fullerton) criticized red tape for building water storage and the loss of jobs.
Huffman interjected that it is not environmental laws that are preventing dams from being built, but financial ones. “Many of these projects, just don’t make sense.” He then introduced his colleague, Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno/Merced/Madera).
“Where water flows, food grows. That’s not just a saying, that is the truth,” Costa said. He praised Valadao but expressed concerns that this bill would pick winners and losers. He also had ecological concerns. “The only path to legislative success is bi-partisan, bi-cameral action,” he said. Costa supported moving this legislation forward to the Senate.
Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton/Lodi/Antioch) echoed the sentiments that this would benefit Central Valley farmers and cause ecological damage to the Delta. “It won’t create any new water. Why do we have to go through this every two years? It’s good political theater for some colleagues, but it is not going to get through the Senate.”
Later, Huffman said that the drought is not manmade, but nature made. “That is taking human-induced climate change to a whole new level.”
Then, came Rep. John Garamendi (D-Fairfield/Davis/Yuba City). He noted that last year’s “WIIN Act” addressed most of the problems that HR 23 addressed. “What are we doing here with this piece of legislation, aside from totally eviscerating the protections of the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Western Hemisphere?” He then said that private water rights would actually be overridden by this bill.
Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove/Folsom/Rancho Cordova) worried that the bill would pit Californians against each other. In the understatement of the debate, Bera said water was complicated, more so than health care.
Huffman bemoaned the “hyperbole” of his colleagues on the right, noting the increased water deliveries to junior rights holders, increased agricultural employment while noting the hardship of the fishing community.
“Water is not optional. Not in my district, not in California, not anywhere,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Porterville/Bakersfield/Lancaster) noted. He called the legislation a major investment in California’s future.
Other Golden State congressmen to chime in on the debate were Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona/Menifee/Eastvale), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach/Newport Beach/Costa Mesa), Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine/Mission Viejo/Orange) and Rep. Steve Knight (R-Simi Valley/Santa Clarita/Palmdale).
Some non-California lawmakers also spoke: Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colorado).
McClintock and Huffman then made closing arguments. The House then debated amendments.
Four minor amendments proposed by Costa, Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Redding/Chico/Susanville) and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Modesto/Manteca/Tracy/Turlock) were approved on a voice vote. Most dealt with federal government water studies.
An amendment proposed by Rep. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico) dealt with recognizing water rights of Indian tribes not affected by HR 23. That too passed by voice vote.
The House voted down an amendment by Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Richmond/Concord/Pittsburg). That would “require a review of available and new, innovative technologies for capturing municipal wastewater and recycling it for providing drinking water and energy, and a report on the feasibility of expanding the implementation of these technologies and programs among Central Valley Project contractors.” The vote was 221-201 against. McClintock, Matsui and Costa also made points in this debate.
An attempt by Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo/Santa Maria) to send the bill back to the Natural Resources Committee failed, 230-189. He wanted more funding for firefighting.
Then came the final vote.
It passed 230-190 in favor of HR 23. While heavily supported by Republicans, there were cross-overs: four Democrats voted in favor, including Costa. Seven Republicans voted against.
The bill now goes to the senate. Both of California’s senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris (both Democrats) say they oppose the bill.
Watch the full debate: