Political Notebook

Tweaks in House water bill cheer California environmentalists

California environmentalists are claiming victory this week, or at least a temporary one, over a key House committee's decision to drop some San Joaquin Valley water provisions from a big spending bill.

Without much debate or explanation, the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday eliminated the controversial Valley provisions from a $34 billion energy and water funding package. The overall bill operates the Interior Department's Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers for Fiscal 2015.

The draft bill passed earlier by a House subcommittee had included language that appeared to steer water away from California's wildlife refuges and habitat protection and toward farm irrigation. Even experienced California water lobbyists confessed they weren't entirely sure how the language popped up, though it looked like a placeholder for a potential drought relief plan lawmakers are still negotiating.

The Senate energy and water funding bill, shepherded by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, does not have similar language. By dropping it, House committee leaders avoided a potential floor hang-up.

"Given how important that funding is for water purchases at the refuges, it's not an overstatement to say that this rider would have caused a catastrophe," Mike Lynes, Audubon California's director of public policy, said in a statement.

The House bill includes $37 million, the same as this year, for Bay-Delta restoration work, among other California provisions.