Sen. Barbara Boxer has paid scant attention to the needs of San Joaquin Valley throughout her 24 years in that office. Thus it comes as little surprise that she – as this is being written – is mounting a filibuster to block a Senate vote on water legislation vital to Valley residents.
The bill is the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, which authorizes more than $11 billion worth of projects nationwide, ranging from Lake Tahoe restoration to fixing lead-tainted water in Flint, Michigan. It is the first significant water-related legislation from Congress in a generation.
What Boxer objects to are the drought-inspired California provisions worked into the bill. The California package – negotiated by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco – is a worthy effort that reflects years of negotiations and compromises by many interests.
The money in the House bill offers $335 million for proposed California water storage projects that are not designated but could potentially include Temperance Flat on the San Joaquin River and Sites reservoir in the Sacramento Valley. The funding is a fraction of what’s needed for the multibillion-dollar projects, but helpful just the same.
There also is major funding for recycling, reuse or desalination projects in California. The bill would ease limits on moving water south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to help Valley farms. And it would end a goal of doubling the Delta’s striped-bass population.
Supporters of the legislation have estimated that additional deliveries could range between 250,000 and 400,000 acre-feet in a typical year. These increases would return fallowed ground to production and restore employment for laid-off farm workers.
Reducing the number of striped bass in the Delta long has been needed. The voracious non-native predator is responsible for reducing the number of salmon and delta smelt, which are endangered, and for whose benefit strict water pumping limits have been enacted.
The House approved the legislation, S. 612, on Thursday by a 360-61 vote, which is an impressive accomplishment in an era when bipartisan agreement is elusive.
The compromise is a testament to McCarthy’s and Feinstein’s political acumen, and to the persuasive power of log-rolling. It also reflects the dire situation faced by Valley farmers reeling from the one-two punch of the state’s historic drought and water delivery restrictions intended to help the environment.
California Republicans joined McCarthy in supporting the bill; Democrats were split. Reps. Jim Costa of Fresno, Doris Matsui of Sacramento, Ami Bera of Elk Grove, and John Garamendi of Walnut Grove were among the Democrats who voted for it, while 16 Californians including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Bay Area delegation opposed it.
Opponents, including Boxer, say that the bill will have devastating effects on the environment. We disagree. The bill simply provides operational flexibility to move and store water from big winter storms instead of allowing that water to flow to the ocean.
It is significant that the bill earned Garamendi’s support. During his time in the California Senate, he was a staunch advocate of protecting Lake Tahoe and Mono Lake, and he was chairman of the science and technology committee.
We urge the Senate to pass this bill and for President Obama to sign it. Compromise, which is in short supply these days at the federal level, should be rewarded – not scuttled by a lame-duck senator whose politics have long been out of touch with the needs of millions of Californians.