Any Valley resident or farmer will tell you, where the water flows, food grows.
It was July 12 that the latest Congressional effort to provide water for Central Valley farmers passed the House of Representatives. H.R. 23, or the GROW Act, passed 230-190 on the House floor.
GV Wire recently traveled to Washington to ask, what happens next? Washington is the city of memorials. The city of monuments. The city of power.
Representative David Valadao (R-Hanford) wrote the bill.
According to his office, the bill would:
- Designate funds for new water projects.
- Ensure water resources.
- Simplify the regulatory permitting process for water infrastructure projects.
- Expedite the process for new storage facilities like Temperance Flat and Sites Dams.
- Uphold water holder use rights.
We visited him at his Washington office. He says what’s different this time around.
“This year, it’s a permanent bill. We still have to do something with the San Joaquin River Settlement that was not touched in the language last year (the WIIN Act). We continue to put pressure on our Senators so they come to the table and hopefully be part of the conversation,” Valadao said from the seventh floor of the Longworth Building, across the street from the Capitol. “What helps us a lot this time versus last time is we have a president who is willing to sign the bill as is, who actually supports the language; and would put pressure from his side as well.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) agrees about the importance of getting Valley farmers the water they need.
“The one thing that we found, too much of this water, especially in this year in California, is going out to the ocean. It would be better if it was stored; we could pump or move it down; have the best use; do more water banking; be able to farm, be able to take it into southern California. These are the years we should be banking the water for the droughts we know will come in the future,” McCarthy told GV Wire.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Modesto) has also been waiting a long time for Washington to pass a water bill. “We want to see the immediate new water infrastructure, some small projects that can happen this year as well as some of the bigger projects that should be done over the next couple of years,” Denham says.
Among the California delegation, the vote was split almost along party lines. Of the 39 California Democrats, 35 voted against and three registered no votes. Only Democrat Jim Costa, who represents Fresno and the Valley farmers, voted in favor of it.
“I’m in an independent voter, I’ve always been considered a bit of a maverick,” Costa says from his office in the Rayburn building. “I’ve been working on water related issues for 30 years.”
Keep in mind, 11 representatives crossed party lines in the H.R. 23 vote. So, how do representatives outside of California view the state’s water issues?
We asked a few how they decide.
“I’m not a scholar. I’m learning a lot from (Minority) Leader (Nancy) Pelosi,” says Rep. André Carson, a Democrat from Indianapolis. “California, being advanced technologically, is taking advantage of distilling water from the ocean; taking the salt out and using the water to make it usable.”
Rep. Joe Cowley, a Democrat from Queens, NY offers this take. “I know the divide between north and south in the state. I think the commodity of water is becoming more and more an issue for the world. It certainly is for our country as well.”
As for how Crowley gets his cues to vote on California water issues? “Primarily from our colleagues and the folks around us. We look to our California colleagues for their input on that.”
Which brings us to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat from San Francisco. I asked her about the water issue at her weekly Washington news conference.
“Now, we have to deal with issues that everybody has to deal with. We have to deal with conservation; we have to deal with aquifers and perhaps even desalination. Every time we almost get to that point, it rains and people say it’s too expensive, let’s save it for later,” she answered from a studio in the bowels of the Capitol.
When asked if she supports federal funding of the Temperance Flat Dam project in Fresno County, Pelosi said no.
“The issue of dams is a much bigger issue than shout outs at some of these kinds of meetings. There are some dams that some of our members support, and some dams that they don’t in California. What we want to do is not violate the Endangered Species Act as one of our criteria for dams and others; make sure that we have the water that we need to grow our crops, to have the jobs that we need; to do so in a way that is fair to the entire state of California,” Pelosi continued.
Now the bill heads to the senate, where California’s two Democratic Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, have vowed to oppose H.R. 23.
The Valley Congressional delegation has mixed feelings on the bill’s future.
“Without a California United States Senator sponsor, it’s very hard to move legislation forward,” warns Congressman Jim Costa. “Let me tell you very clearly: the other 49 states view California as always fighting over its water resources.”
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is more optimistic. “I don’t know if (Sen. Kamala) Harris will ever get there. Dianne (Feinstein), we got some pieces of legislation with her last time. We now have an administration with President Trump, who is supportive of this bill. We’ve got the cabinet members as well. And remember, the Republicans are the majority in the Senate as well. So, we’ll work with those senators that want to be able to be helpful to us,” he says.
The last word in this piece belongs to Valadao. “We’re going to keep fighting for water for the Valley, for every opportunity we’ve got and keep this in the front burner so that people know what’s going on and we can get to a real solution.”
image: Hannah Reilly