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Obama administration opposes GOP California drought bill

Feb. 5, 2014 at 5:18 PM   |   Comments

SACRAMENTO, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- The Obama administration lined up Wednesday against a Republican bill dealing with California's drought as state officials closed two rivers to fishing.

A statement issued by the Office of Management and Budget said the administration "strongly opposes" the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act, sponsored by Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., and the president's senior advisers would recommend he veto the measure if it reaches his desk.

The statement says the bill "would not alleviate the effects of California's current drought and would disrupt decades of work that supports building consensus, solutions, and settlements that equitably address some of California's most complex water challenges."

California is in the midst of an extended drought and its reservoirs are running low. The OMB statement said the situation "requires a balanced approach that promotes water reliability and ecosystem restoration."

"Specifically, H.R. 3964 would undermine years of collaboration between local, state and federal stakeholders to develop a sound water quality control plan for the Bay-Delta," the statement said. "And, contrary to current and past federal reclamation law that defers to state water law, the bill would pre-empt California water law."

The OMB statement adds the bill would cast aside the principle that beneficiaries should pay the cost of developing water supplies and mitigating the impact, and would worsen the situation by repealing water pricing reforms that encourage conservation.

The administration said another factor is the bill would repeal the San Joaquin River settlement agreement, which it said "would likely result in the resumption of costly litigation, creating an uncertain future for river restoration and water delivery operations for water users on the San Joaquin River."

Obama has directed federal agencies to work to help California and other affected states to deal with the drought in other ways, including reauthorization of the CALFED Bay-Delta Act, the Secure Water Act and the Reclamation States Emergency Drought Relief Act.

The emergency fishing closures were ordered through April 30 for the Russian and American Rivers in Northern California as a means of preserving salmon and steelhead trout stocks.

The closures ordered by the California Fish and Game Commission in Sacramento also apply to hundreds of smaller coastal streams.

Fishing for other species was also barred due to concerns that the drought would significantly lower water levels in rivers and streams and increase the risk of anglers accidentally trampling sensitive salmon and steelhead spawning beds that are normally in deeper waters, the Sacramento Bee said.

"This is about maximizing the protections for the wild fish in these systems, given the projected outlook of a compounding or intensifying drought," said Stafford Lehr, head of the commission's fisheries branch. "It is expected we're going to have compounding mortality [to fish] as we move through the season."

California received minimal rain and snowfall in January, which is usually the wettest month of the year in the state. Sacramento reacted by sharply curtailing deliveries of water supplies from the State Water Project.

The parceling out of scarce water supplies means less water released into vital salmon rivers, which brought protests from the commercial fishing industry and their representatives in Congress where the GOP-sponsored emergency legislation would funnel federally controlled water to San Joaquin Valley growers at the expense of water releases into salmon habitat.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., spoke out against the bill on the House floor Wednesday, calling it an attempt to rewrite water law at the expense of the environment and the fishing industry.

"This bill would dry up what's left of this once-legendary salmon fishery, and in the process could put over 25,000 people out of work," Eshoo said. "In a transparent effort to elevate the water rights of junior water contractors in the arid Central Valley, this bill wipes out decades of state and federal law."

Topics: Barack Obama
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