HR1837: U.S. Representative Scott Tipton wants to make sure the bill remains a San Joaquin Valley water grab

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Interesting legislation is wending its way through the U.S. Congress. Central Valley farmers are making a play for more water, and less water for the San Joaquin delta. U.S. Representative Scott Tipton is hoping to make sure that it doesn’t open up a new angle for federal reserved water rights in Colorado and the rest of the country. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., sponsored an amendment to the bill which would limit its scope to the San Joaquin Valley in order to avoid opening the door to federal reserve water rights in Colorado. “In order to protect jobs in Colorado, we attached language to the bill that would prevent it from preempting state law in any other state,” Tipton said…

The legislation, HR1837, authorizes the secretary of Interior to review water contracts in the San Joaquin Valley for 40 years, at the request of contractors. Its sponsor is U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

The bill would allow water deliveries from Northern California to continue in order to restore irrigation water to farms. The state supported federal preemption of state water law to protect delta smelt fish…

Tipton supports the bill, with his amendment to limit the scope of federal review, because it would protect farm jobs. He does not want the federal review to set a precedent that would be applied to other states, however.

More coverage from Michael Doyle writing for The Miami Herald. From the article:

“The question is, has the bill created so much distrust and chaos that the process of solving the problem has been set back?” said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove. A former top Interior Department official, Garamendi contends the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act approved by the House on Wednesday “creates a huge disruption” that will complicate the search for long-term California solutions…

The water bill’s authors, having secured House passage by a largely party line 246-175 margin, now insist they are on a roll. “We’re going to figure out what our options are, how to bring the bill up on the Senate floor,” said the bill’s chief author, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia.

The bill would would lengthen 25-year water contracts to 40 years, preempt strict state environmental laws and steer more water to farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Carefully negotiated language is designed to reassure Sacramento Valley farmers they won’t lose supplies as a result. The bill also would end an ambitious plan to restore salmon to the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam, replacing it with a more modest proposal for other fish species.

Supporters call the bill a way to save farms and turn water to better use. As Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, put it, the legislation will “put people to work.” Opponents call it a water grab by south-of-Delta farmers…

“It’s a very selfish bill,” [Senator Diane] Feinstein said of the House effort in an interview. “It says the farmers get the water, and everybody else be damned.” Feinstein, moreover, denounces [U.S. Representative Rep. Devin] Nunes’ characterizations of her. Nunes has run ads that say Feinstein “defines hypocrisy,” and in interviews he has called her a “liar” whose staffers are “radicals” aligned with “radical environmentalists” and the “hippie generation.” “In all my life, I’ve never been exposed to this kind of behavior,” Feinstein said. “It says to me he doesn’t want to work with me.”

More coverage from Karoun Demirjian writing for the Las Vegas Sun. From the article:

What happens in California holds sway over many of Nevada’s most important industries: Californians populate the state’s casinos, they are the state’s best would-be buyers of renewable energy, and now, they may be setting a standard for how Nevada’s scarce water resources will be allocated in the future.

Or at least that is what Nevada, along with a host of other Western states, fears will happen if a federal bill to restructure California’s system for sharing water among urbanites, farmers and conservation projects passes Congress…

The particulars of the dispute are localized to California. But some Nevadans believe that if the federal government can successfully intervene to impose a water settlement on California, there’s no reason government won’t meddle in Nevada’s water disputes too. “This flawed legislation would threaten our ability to determine how we manage Nevada’s most precious natural resource — our water supply,” said Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, who voted against the bill this week. “That is why the state of Nevada opposed this bill and why I voted to protect the rights of the Silver State when it comes to water.”[…]

“Enacting (the bill) would set a dangerous precedent of preempting state water rights, which could reduce available water supplies from Northern California to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California,” the CRC of Nevada wrote. “This reduction could increase pressure on limited Colorado River water supplies crucial to Southern Nevada.”[…]

But while the House may have put its weight behind the bill in a 245-171 vote (mostly along party lines), momentum behind the effort is likely to stop there. California’s two Senators, both Democrats, are opposed to the plan, as is President Barack Obama, who complained through his advisers that the House bill “would codify 20-year-old, outdated science as the basis for managing California’s water resources, resulting in inequitable treatment of one group of water users over the other.”

More water law coverage here.

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