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Water Bill with Drought Relief on President’s Desk

Taylor Hillman Drought, Water

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The FY17 Water Resources Development Act is now on the President’s desk, after passing both the House and the Senate late last week. The water bill includes drought relief legislation for California.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Senator Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco negotiated the rider to the bill in an effort to help California as it braces for a sixth year of drought. “The goal of the short-term provisions in the bill—which will sunset after five years—is to run California’s water system based on good science, not intuition,” Feinstein said. “The provisions include daily monitoring of fish in turbid water, ending the winter storm payback requirement, requiring agencies to explain when they pump less than biological opinions allow, maximize water supplies consistent with law, a pilot project to see if the Delta Cross-Channel Gates can be opened for longer, extend the time period for voluntary water transfers, allow 1:1 transfer ratios in certain conditions and allow expedited reviews for projects to improve water quality.”

“The long-term provisions are vital for California to not become a desert state,” Feinstein continued. “We absolutely must hold water from wet years for use in dry years, and this bill will help accomplish that by investing more than $500 million in projects. The water bill directs $30 million to desalination projects, $150 million to water recycling and water conservation projects, $335 million to groundwater and surface storage projects and $43 million to projects that benefit fish and wildlife.”

California Senate Democrat Barbara Boxer had vowed to block the measure despite the drought relief attached to the bill. She said the bill would “roll back” the Endangered Species Act. In a statement, Boxer said, “I will use every tool at my disposal to stop this last minute poison pill rider.” Boxer did vote against the bill, however the senate succeeded in passing it 78-21.

In a statement before the vote, McCarthy countered Boxer and said, “This is an important moment for California, and the timing of this deal is critical. We cannot afford to miss capturing water from storms during this wet season.”