Amid controversy, Devin Nunes returning to Fresno to talk water

Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican congressman from Tulare who’s been at the center of a political firestorm in Washington, D.C., is scheduled to address water issues at a meeting of agricultural lenders Friday in Fresno.

Nunes, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has been under fire over his role in the investigation of Russian interference with the U.S. election – particularly after the disclosure that he briefed President Donald Trump earlier this month that surveillance of Russian officials captured contacts with Trump associates before disclosing the information with his fellow committee members. Nunes was a member of the Trump transition team.

Friday’s talk at the Ag Lenders Society of California annual meeting in Fresno will likely be considerably less volatile for Nunes.

“The focus is to get together with this business organization to continue educating the public that we’re chronically 2.5 million acre-feet short of water in the Valley,” said Anthony Ratekin, Nunes’ chief of staff. “We want to let them have an idea of where the problems are and what we see as the proposed solution.”

Nunes is one of 13 co-sponsors of H.R. 23, a water bill offered in January by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford. The bill includes provisions to, among other things, scale back an ambitious San Joaquin River restoration program, speed completion of California dam feasibility studies such as the proposed Temperance Flat Dam on the upper San Joaquin River, and increase the certainty of water deliveries to Sacramento Valley irrigation districts.

“Ag groups and constituents have demanded that Congress give their best solution to this problem, which is H.R. 23,” Ratekin added. Friday’s speech to the ag lenders is “an opportunity to let them know what (the bill) does and how it does it.”

The bill has been referred to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committees.

Nunes’ appearance in Fresno likely won’t be without dissent, as a grassroots demonstration is planned on Blackstone Avenue north of Shaw Avenue in front of TorNino’s Banquets, where the meeting is taking place. Nunes is slated to address the lenders at 1 p.m., according to the ALSC website. The demonstration is planned for noon to 2 p.m.

“We’re basically going to be there as a peaceful vigil,” said Nancy Griesser, a local activist. “The congressman has not held town hall meetings in years, and that is particularly apparent now with the concerns raised by the (Trump) administration and his role in the new administration.”

Griesser said five local ad hoc groups – Speak Up CD22 (named for Nunes’ 22nd Congressional District), Together We Will, Every Tuesday Vigil, Fresno Indivisible and Central Valley Indivisible – will gather on the sidewalk with signs expressing disappointment with Nunes. She said it will include some of the same people who demonstrated near Nunes’ office in Old Town Clovis last month. They will also have a cardboard cutout of Nunes to complain about his lack of public meetings with constituents.

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