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Drought Bill Sets Up Water Fight in U.S. House

Rep. David Valadao says current federal regulations divert water from farms to the Delta smelt, a small three-inch fish. He wants more of that water to go toward farmers. | Photo: Courtesy Peter Johnsen/USFWS

Emergency drought-relief legislation for California is heading to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill by Central Valley lawmakers would halt the restoration of the San Joaquin River and send more water to farmers. In announcing the bill, Rep. David Valadao blamed California's water shortages primarily on failed government policies.

Opponents however say the lawmakers are using the drought as a pretext. According to Kim Delfino, California director for Defenders of Wildlife, suspending environmental protections that benefit public health and wildlife will make absolutely no difference in the drought.

"It's not going to generate more water, it's not going to make it rain, because the reality is that there just isn't additional water to be had," she declared.

Delfino said suspending federal and state laws to export more water to farm fields would have a disastrous effect on the salmon industry, because the fish are already stressed and dying because of the lack of water.

"The salmon industry is a $1.4 billion industry in California, and it would devastate it," she said. "It would also impact water quality for Delta communities, Delta farmers. It would impact water quality for the Bay Area communities that are taking water out of the Delta."

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act was introduced last week after the House and Senate agriculture committees rejected the lawmakers' attempt to put a drought policy rider into the national Farm Bill. California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is drafting her own drought legislation, called the bill "irresponsible" and "dangerous for California."

Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown suspended the state's foremost environmental on drought-related responses.

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