To dispense with the obvious, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is playing every game she can to reassure agribusiness that she is still their water girl.
Meanwhile, Rep. Devin Nunes, whose new district includes a heavy addition of skeptical Fresno to true-believin\\\' Tulare County, is facing an emissary from Santa Clara County, who represents interests that wish to send Nunes back to Visalia for the rest of his life because Nune\\\'s H.R. 1837, the so-called "Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act," throws into question the water rights of the Santa Clara Water District among others, and SCWD provides water for all them city slickers in Silicon Valley.
Badlands Journal editorial board
Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog
Barry Nelson’s Blog
Water Rights "Hot Potato" and H.R. 1837
Last Thursday, the House Natural Resources Committee passed Congressman Nunes’ H.R. 1837. Many of the problems that this reckless bill would cause are well known. For example, the bill would:
Stop the consensus restoration program on the San Joaquin River.
Block efforts to develop a balanced plan for the Delta, pursuant to the state Delta Reform Act of 2009.
Block science-based protections for salmon and other listed species in the Bay-Delta and its rivers.
Prevent the state of California from using state law, the state constitution or the Public Trust to manage its own water resources or to protect species in the Bay-Delta ecosystem.
Threaten the survival of California’s commercial and recreational fishing industry – along with the thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars it contributes to the state economy.
Gut the landmark Central Valley Project Improvement Act, including reducing the money and water available for salmon and environmental restoration.
Waive the requirement that new federal dam projects in the Central Valley comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.
Many of these problems are explained in the letters, editorials and statements you can find here. But one of the thorniest problems the bill would create is a series of changes to California’s notoriously complicated system of water rights. Congressman Nunes and the Westlands Water District have been quite forthright in admitting that one goal of this bill is to shift the responsibility to protect the Bay-Delta ecosystem to other water users.
The water rights problem has haunted this legislative effort from the start. The first version of the bill would have blocked protections under federal law -- protecting junior CVP water contractors. The problem is that, under state law, that language could have shifted the responsibility of protecting the Bay-Delta to State Water Project customers in Kern County and Southern California. Not surprisingly, they objected. The next version of H.R. 1837 protected the State Water Project, but left upstream water users holding the bag. That led Congressman McClintock to hold the bill for months. Language in the new version of the bill, which was negotiated among water users represented by Congressmen Nunes, Lungren and McClintock, would benefit some Sacramento River water users.
Across the state, water attorneys are now pouring over the new bill asking the same questions they asked when previous versions were released. Who was out of the room this time? Whose water rights would be undermined by this version? Here are a few initial thoughts:
The bill includes language (Sections 402 and 403) guaranteeing water deliveries to Sacramento Valley water districts. The bill takes the unprecedented step of guaranteeing full water deliveries for junior water contractors in the Sacramento Valley even in “below normal” water years. This guarantee would apply in extended droughts, like that from 1987-1992. Other CVP contractors, like EBMUD and the Santa Clara Valley Water District, receive no such guarantees. (That’s what happens to those who are not in the room when this bill is amended.) As a result, when the next drought comes, this bill could reduce water supplies for the East Bay, Silicon Valley and other CVP customers.
The Department of Water Resources predicts that climate change will reduce available water supplies in the Bay-Delta system. The Sacramento River water delivery guarantee shifts this projected impact onto other CVP customers. And the bill’s legislative provision extending CVP contract terms from 25 to 40 years (Section 103) would make it far more difficult for the Bureau of Reclamation to fix this problem.
The bill blocks science-based protections for the Bay-Delta and would impose in their place outdated standards set nearly 20 years ago. As inadequate as those standards are, the Sacramento Valley water delivery guarantees would shift the responsibility to meet them to others in the CVP. (The East Bay and Silicon Valley again.)
The bill would also prohibit the restoration of flows to the upper San Joaquin River below Mendota Pool – as called for by the San Joaquin River restoration agreement. Well, the State Water Board is currently developing new standards to protect the lower San Joaquin River. If this bill did not stop the Board’s effort to set these standards (which is far from clear), this bill would exempt the Friant water contractors from releasing water – shifting the burden of providing flows for the lower San Joaquin to the San Francisco PUC, the Modesto Irrigation District and the Turlock Irrigation District.
The process of amending H.R. 1837 hasn’t been an effort to solve the state’s very real water problems. It has been a game of water rights “hot potato”, with some water users trying to shift the responsibility of protecting the Bay-Delta, salmon and other species to their neighbors –threatening supplies in a state where water rights are protected with zeal.
It’s disturbing that this irresponsible bill is now ready to be taken to the House floor. But stay tuned. I suspect that the game of hot potato isn’t over.
Visalia Times Delta
Rep. Nunes faces challenge
Redistricting puts him in a different area… DAVID CASTELLON
When Tulare County voters go to polling places in June, they\\\'ll find some changes when it comes to electing a representative to Congress.
Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, who has served nearly five terms representing the 21st Congressional District, is listed as the incumbent for the district\\\'s race, but he\\\'s not running for the 21st seat he\\\'s held all these years.
Instead, he\\\'s running for the 22nd U.S. congressional seat against Otto Lee, a Democrat and Silicon Valley lawyer who recently moved to Fresno.
California\\\'s voter district lines were re-aligned last year, so Nunes\\\' current district — which covers all of Tulare County and part of Fresno County — will be redesignated the 22nd next year.
And the new 22nd district\\\'s boundaries have changed to include more of Fresno County, while most of Tulare County was cut out and portioned to other districts.
The new 22nd covers only northwest Tulare County, from the northern border above Dinuba to a line south of Tulare and Waukena. And it extends from the western border to areas east of Woodlake, Exeter, Lindsay and Cutler-Orosi.
Porterville and the Sierra regions — including Three Rivers, Lemon Cove, Lindcove and the Tule Indian Reservation -†will be part of the re-aligned 23rd Congressional District, while the southwest county, including Allensworth, Pixley, Earlimart, Ducor and Richgrove, will be part of the new 21st district.
How voters pick their congressional representatives also will change.
In the past, voters received for the June primary ballots based on their respective parties, with each party\\\'s top vote-getter going to the general election in November.
This year, California has an open primary for most federal and statewide candidates, so the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of their party affiliation.
What that means for Nunes and Lee, the only two candidates for the 22nd District seat, is that they\\\'ll both be on the ballot in November regardless of who wins the June primary.
Here is a look at the two candidates:
Devin Nunes, 38 (incumbent)
ª Political party: Republican
ª Occupation: Member, U.S. House of Representatives since 2003
ª Marital status: Married, father of two with a third child expected
ª Previous elected office: College of the Sequoias Board of Trustees
ª Previous government
service: California state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Development
What Nunes said he likes best about being a member of Congress is that it\\\'s a job few people ever get to do, representing the interests of about 750,000 people.
That number will drop by about 50,000 once the 22nd District\\\'s borders change next year.
Part of his campaign will involve trying to make his name better known to his new constituents in Fresno County. But he\\\'s not worried about that, as Nunes said he believes that the issues and concerns of people there aren\\\'t all that different from the those of the people he represents in his current district, which is about 70 percent of the realigned district he hopes to represent.
"We\\\'re an area where we grow things and make things, and we need to use the land and the water resources," he said.
One of the biggest challenges he sees to the economy in the Valley are attacks by "big city" people, particularly their pushes for what he considers radical environmental regulations, including excessive air quality regulations and redirecting San Joaquin Delta water from farms.
"Basically, the delta has long been a contention of folks that portray it as it somehow needs to be fixed. They say the method [to fix it] is to take our water and dump it out in the ocean ... to protect the delta smelt," Nunes said.
And Nunes — referred to on one website as a "water boy" for corporate agribusiness in the San Joaquin Valley -†sees efforts to direct water away from farms in the Valley to protect salmon fisheries on the delta as a "water grab."
Nunes has long been an advocate for reducing restrictions on deliveries of water in the delta to farms rather than holding water back to help fish habitats, as mandated by court rulings launched by environmental groups.
For example, one project he has championed is construction of a San Joaquin River dam at Temperance Flat, near Auberry, but Nunes said the project has been stalled because of environmental issues.
In February, the House passed a bill authored by Nunes, HR1387, intended to restore contracted water to farmers in Central and Northern California.
Nunes said he\\\'s been frustrated that the Senate hasn\\\'t put out a similar bill that would allow development of a compromise for federal legislators to consider.
"There are people who want to idle over a million acres of farm ground" through lack of water, he said
And while air quality has improved in the Valley over the past two decades, regulations have gotten so burdensome and costly that setting up a business here has become difficult, Nunes said.
"The Valley is really hard hit because our biggest opportunity for growth is in manufacturing," which is particularly hit by costly air regulations.
Even jobs in high-tech sectors across the state are moving to other states because of the regulations, he said.
As for the current, heated partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats, Nunes said that in some areas, those divides are necessary — including the federal bank bailouts and President Barack Obama\\\'s health care reforms, both of which Nunes opposed.
"You\\\'re just not going to convince me that the federal government can make a better decision than the people I represent" about their health care, he said, adding that "Obamacare" could bankrupt the country.
When asked about Lee, his opponent in the race, Lee, Nunes declined to comment.
Otto Lee, 44
ª Political party: Democrat
ª Occupation: Intellectual property law attorney, founding partner
ª Marital status: Married, father of three
ª Previous elected office: Sunnyvale city councilman
ª Previous government service: Current Navy Reserve commander
Although Lee has been a mayor and city councilman, most voters in Tulare County probably don\\\'t know much about him.
That\\\'s because unlike his opponent, Nunes, Lee isn\\\'t from the Valley.
When he filed as a candidate for the congressional race, Lee\\\'s home city was listed as Sunnyvale, while the law firm he founded is in San Jose.
Candidates for Congress don\\\'t have to live in the districts they seek to represent, but the decision to try to become a congressman for Tulare County rather than Santa Clara County may seem an odd choice.
But Lee said he\\\'s got no contention with the people representing the area where he has lived and worked for years, but he does have issues with the job done in Congress by Nunes.
"I think the people have been shortchanged with the congressman, [who] has been busy following the party line," said Lee, a native of Hong Kong who immigrated with his family to the U.S. when he was 15 and settled in Berkeley.
"Ultimately, I think this region, I believe it deserves better," he said. "It deserves the type of leadership that will get bills passed in Congress, somebody who will [work] in a bipartisan fashion that will bring in resources here."
In particular, Lee said, he wants to bring more businesses and jobs to the area, and some of those businesses would be the sort of tech industries that have blossomed in Silicon Valley.
He said that when he as a member of Sunnyvale\\\'s planning commission, he helped draw companies — including Apple, HP, Nokia and Google — by the city improving its infrastructure, which included improving transportation corridors and permitting new development that would appeal to such businesses.
"These are not typically the companies that you would consider for the area here in Fresno," Lee said, but added that real estate and the cost of living is so much lower here than in the Bay Area and Southern California that it would be easier for tech companies to recruit employees to work here.
"I think there is an interest," Lee added.
"As long as the infrastructure is there, it\\\'s doable," he said, noting that 60 years ago, Silicon Valley was a largely agricultural area.
One obstacle to this goal is the Valley\\\'s poor air quality, Lee said.
"Air quality needs to be improved significantly," he added. "We need to look at ways to reduce pollutionÔªø," which could include reducing diesel truck emissions.
Also needed is a concerted effort to stem the number of high school dropouts in Tulare and Fresno counties, which could include federally funded after-school programs and grants for college students, Lee said.
He also supports federally funded programs through Medicare and Medicaid that provide basic women\\\'s health care and — as an Iraqi war veteran -†money provided to help veterans.
He accused Nunes of not bringing enough federal resources to this region by objecting to earmarks in the federal budget for local programs.
"I believe in working in a bipartisan manner in order to get things done. Right now, we have a Congress that people say is a do-nothing Congress," Lee said.
He said he became acquainted with the area nine years ago when his law firm represented the cities of Fowler and Clovis. Since filing as a candidate, Lee has moved to Fresno to campaign and work on setting up an office for his practice, which also has a Los Angeles office.
Lee said he plans to move his family to Fresno after his daughters finish the school semester. And even if he doesn\\\'t win his congressional bid, he said he plans to stay there.
NEW: Feinstein offers pact with water devil…Wayne Lusvard
Yesterday U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., responded to a Republican-backed water bill stalled in the U.S. Senate with a deal that might end up as a pact with the water devil for farmers and water agencies.
Feinstein included provisions in an amended Senate Appropriations agriculture and energy bill to possibly provide more certainty of water supplies for Central Valley farmers.
Feinstein also surprisingly dangled the carrot of an expedited federal review for approval of the proposed Sites Reservoir in Colusa County. Water for the Sites Reservoir would be diverted from the Sacramento River.
Stalled House Bill Would Repeal Feinstein’s 2009 Water Bill
The House bill that is stalled in the U.S. Senate, H.R. 1837 by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia., would have repealed Feinstein’s 2009 San Joaquin River Restoration Act, H.R. 146.
Feinstein’s 2009 bill took water allocations from farmers and transferred them to commercial fishing, recreational and real estate interests in northern California under the guise of environmental restoration.
Her 2009 bill also required future renewal of agricultural water contracts to go through an environmental review process. That would be like farmers and water agencies having to deal with the water devil by having to pay for contrived environmental mitigations payouts to so-called “stakeholders.”
The Apparent Deal at Hand
What is apparently on the bargaining table now is a trade of expedited federal review of a new proposed water storage reservoir and possible greater certainty of farm water in return for keeping the provisions of Feinstein’s 2009 bill intact. As it is often said, the devil is in the details.
Feinstein’s amendments to the Senate’s appropriations bill would:
Provide for a six-month study by the Department of the Interior on ways to bring about additional farm water deliveries;
“Urge” the Department of Interior to “facilitate and expedite” transfers of federal Central Valley Project water to farmers; and
Expedite the Federal review for the new proposed Sites Reservoir.
A Deal with the Devil?
The critical question with such a deal: Is it a pact made with the Water Devil — a bargain done for present gain without regard to future cost or consequences?
Would farmers and water agencies be willing to incur huge future environmental liabilities on the flimsy promise that federal agencies would comply with being “urged” to fast-track water transfers and review of a new proposed reservoir? Why would federal agencies need “urging” to fast track review of a new dam when California only has a half-year of water storage capacity in its present water system? Wouldn’t California’s thin water storage capacity be enough of an emergency to rush reviews?
And what would prevent such guarantees included in an agricultural and energy bill from being easily overturned? What would hold both parties to their part of the bargain in the long term? California water history indicates that water deals obtained by “force and/or fraud” are bound to unravel while those obtained by “consent of the governed” are more lasting.
And why would farmers and water agencies be willing to deal with the Water Devil of environmental reviews of their water contract renewals when the outcome of the Department of Interior study six months down the road is uncertain?
Even Democratic Congressman Jim Costa of agricultural Fresno is cited as a backer of the “more aggressive House proposal,” HR 1837, rather than Feinstein’s deal. However, Costa also said Feinstein’s deal was “helpful.”
Nunes said he would not reject Feinstein’s deal on its face but wanted greater assurances.
Maybe a deal can be struck now that negotiations have been re-opened. But it is an election year for Feinstein. And that may mean floating up a deal for farmers and water agencies that is meant to buy votes. Feinstein’s deal would not repeal her one-sided 2009 water bill that was ramrodded through Congress by force and fraud instead of consent of the governed.
‘Force, Fraud or Consent of the Governed?’
The Sacramento Bee described the pending Senate agricultural and energy appropriations bill (http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/news.cfm?method=news.view&id=eaa626fc-9ba7-4477-ae48-25767c9ae814) as a “must pass” piece of legislation to keep the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation funded for 2013. The 2013 fiscal year begins July 1.
It appears that Feinstein is back to the devilish use of “force and fraud” rather than obtaining the “consent of the governed.” But there still is a small window of time to cut a deal for mutual benefit.