House Approves Delta Water Bill

The White House has issued a veto threat, and both of California's senators have vowed to stop it.

Published on: Mar 5, 2012

The House of Representatives has approved a bill that would make far-reaching changes in California water. The measure eliminates environmental protections and ends reforms of federal irrigation policy that Central Valley farmers have opposed.

HR 1837, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act, was approved by a 246 to 175 margin after nearly five hours of debate that underscored stark differences among California's congressional delegation over how to address the state's long-term water problems.

The bill, authored by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-21) and co-sponsored by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-19) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-22), passed the House Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 16 by a 27-17 vote. The legislation is known as Nunes' "San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act" Though the bill had been significantly revised since its initial introduction last May, California representatives remained sharply divided on its provisions.

The Congressional Budget Office reports that "H.R. 1837 the "San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act" would impose intergovernmental mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) by preempting state laws and requiring or prohibiting some activities related to water management and wildlife preservation.
The Congressional Budget Office reports that "H.R. 1837 the "San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act" would impose intergovernmental mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) by preempting state laws and requiring or prohibiting some activities related to water management and wildlife preservation.

The bill next moves to the Senate.

Prospects of becoming law are poor however as the White House has issued a veto threat, and it is unlikely to survive the Democratic-controlled Senate, where both of California's senators have vowed to stop it.

Furthermore, the Congressional Budget Office reports that "H.R. 1837 would impose intergovernmental mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) by preempting state laws and requiring or prohibiting some activities related to water management and wildlife preservation. The bill would require the state of California to change how it manages a state system for storing and delivering water. It also would prohibit the state from restricting existing water rights in an effort to protect any species affected by the operations of the water projects in the state. Similarly, it would prohibit restrictions on water rights that are designed to protect, enhance, or restore the value of public water resources. Finally, the bill would preempt several other state laws related to water management and wildlife preservation."

"H.R. 1837's unintended consequences are too great and its unanticipated uncertainties are too risky. What happens in California won't stay in California no matter what Title 5 of this bill says. This bill, if it ever becomes law, will ignite California's next water war and the fights will spread across the West," warned California House member John Garamendi.

"It is long standing federal policy to defer to states on water rights," says David Festa, Environmental Defense Fund's vice president of West Coast operations and Land, Water, Wildlife program, who is a former Director of Policy and Strategic Planning for the U.S. Department of Commerce. "Making an exception in this case wouldn't help forge a long term solution, but it would create a bad precedent for all western states." 

The flaws in H.R. 1837 include that it: 

*Preempts state law and interferes with state water rights

*Overturns the court approved settlement, reached through negotiations among the parties, to restore the San Joaquin River

*Undermines environmental protections for the Bay Delta estuary, salmon and other wildlife.