Rep. Steve Knight (Calif.-25) expressed frustration last week with Sen. Diane Feinstein after the senior senator announced she would not allow a California drought relief measure to move forward as part of a end-of-year spending bill.
The California Emergency Drought Relief and Water Storage Act of 2015, a final effort by California House members to alleviate the state’s drought crisis, was reportedly rejected by Feinstein shortly after it was proposed. Knight believes the measure was the last opportunity for Congress to act on the water issue before the end of the legislative year. Its dismissal, he said, may have had more to do with politics than policy considerations.
“We have spent a large part of this year working with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to craft a water bill that would deliver real relief to the people of California,” Knight said. “Now is the time to act to ensure that Californians get the relief they need.”
The measure was proposed two weeks ago as an addition to the Omnibus bill, a package of spending legislation that would fund a wide range of government programs next year. Knight said that after expressing interest in the measure, Feinstein announced shortly following the introduction of the proposal that she would no longer support adding the drought relief language. A spokesperson for Knight explained that the issue “got political” and that there appeared to be no desire by Feinstein to move forward.
In short, the water storage act was introduced as HR 1837 in 2011 to roll back government restrictions on the pumping of water for use by California communities, while easing regulations that may result in hundreds of billions of gallons of fresh water getting flushed into the ocean. The Republican-led House passed the bill the following year, at the same time that Senate Democrats gave no consideration to HR 1837 nor did they pass their own water bill for California. In 2014, the House introduced and passed HR 3964—the Sacramento-San Joaquin Emergency Water delivery Act—which was an additional attempt to ease government water regulations that may restrict water supply. That year, Feinstein introduced SB 2016—the California Emergency Drought Relief Act—which House members said would provide far less water for California than would HR 3964.
Feinstein reportedly urged House Republican leadership to instruct Senate Republicans to allow passage of a second bill, SB 2198 or the Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014, which would enable the two chambers to enter a negotiating conference. House members and senators began to discuss a compromise water bill, but Feinstein walked away from these talks. The House went ahead and passed HR 5781 which reportedly reflected some of the language negotiated with Feinstein. Security Act of 2015, which itself reflected the 2014 negotiations with the Senate. Then the Senate introduced another water bill that spends $1.3 billion without an offset; both House and Senate Republicans said this bill had no chance of passing either chamber. Both sides met for several months this year to make progress toward an agreement. Finally, the House submitted language to include in an omnibus spending bill that retained both Democrat and Republican priorities which the Obama Administration agreed not to oppose. Knight’s office said that’s when Feinstein publicly rejected the proposal less than 24 hours after it was introduced.
“A state without water is dead … that’s where we are headed, if we do not pass this bill,” Knight said. “People are suffering, and people can’t comply with those reductions—that’s our life. If we don’t do something about this today, when will we? I’m disappointed that politics have gotten in the way of helping our state at this time of need. For goodness sake, we are trying to fix the one issue that affects all Californians, and walking away from the table helps no one.”
Feinstein released the following statement on the California water bill:
“The bill that Republicans tried to place in the omnibus [Dec. 4]—in my name and without my knowledge—hadn’t been reviewed by me, Sen. Boxer, the state or the White House. Each of those parties is key to coming up with a bill that can actually be signed into law.
“There were at least a half-dozen items in the bill that I had rejected and that would have drawn objections from state or federal agencies—some of them would likely violate environmental law. Several more provisions were still being negotiated and hadn’t been reviewed by state or federal stakeholders.”
This year, the House introduced and passed HR 2898, the Western Water and American Food