Bill Shifts Some State Water Control to Feds

A federal bill that shifts some controls over state water to the federal government has passed the House of Representatives.

HR 23, known as the GROW Act (Gaining Responsibility on Water) passed the House July 12 on a vote of 230 to 190, mostly along party lines, with Republicans favoring it, and Democrats opposed.

The bill was written by Republican Congressman David Valadao, whose district is in the southern Central Valley.

Valadao says the bill will save taxpayers $1.5 billion over 10 years, be eliminating the statutory requirements for the federal government to provide drainage service for land within the Westlands Agricultural District boundaries. Valadao said the bill will expand water storage ability in California.

He added that the bill would help keep Delta farmers in business.

But critics of the bill say it would eliminate environmental safeguards in the Delta for threatened species. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris have announced their opposition to the bill.

Gov. Jerry Brown wrote a letter of protest two days before the bill’s passage to House Speaker Paul Ryan. Brown said the bill overrides California water law and ignores the state’s prerogative to oversee its water. “Commandeering our laws for purposes defined in Washington is not right,” said Brown.

Despite her opposition to Governor Brown’s controversial Delta Tunnels proposal, Executive Director of Restore the Delta Barbara Barrigan-Parilla said, “We are grateful to Gov. Jerry Brown for speaking out to Congress in order to protect species and water quality laws essential to the health of the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary, and all California waterways. We are also grateful to Senator Feinstein and Senator Harris for their clear and strong opposition to the bill as well.”

Barrigan-Parilla called Valadao’s bill an end run around state laws to benefit a small group of industrial agriculture irrigation districts at the expense of all other Californians. "Water is a public trust resource.”

Congressman Eric Swalwell said, "California needs a multifaceted water solution, but this isn't it. I opposed this bill because it fails to seriously develop more water conservation and recycling, sets back our environmental protection efforts, preempts state law, and unfairly favors agriculture interests and certain parts of the state over other consideration.”

Swalwell noted that the bill was opposed by environmental groups, including the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the National Audubon Society.

An amendment to Valadao’s bill by Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, who represents Contra Costa County, called for review of available technology for using muni waste water recycled for drinking water and energy. It was defeated 221 to 201.