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Words & Votes Count November 4, 2022



Photo: L-R, David Valadao, Cliff Bentz & Jason Phillips

By Don A. Wright

It’s election season and every two years we hear things like, “This is the most important election in the history of the United States!” And it always is. The next election, when it comes, will then be the most important in the history of the United States. Maybe not in the way the histrionics expressed by a partisan punditry claim, but every election is important. I once opined the abuse of power and overreach by government began the very moment voters assumed someone else will step up for them and hold the state accountable. As I see it no one is watching out for your interests better than you and if you’re an eligible voter and don’t exercise that right you have no room to complain.

But even for those who do vote every election cycle and research candidates and propositions there is often frustration. Not just when a candidate or ballot measure wins or loses against desires but there’s the two year in between when some pretty crazy stuff takes place. It can feel futile, especially for those who depend on a reliable water supply and find the regulatory goals moved by elected and  unelected folks who consider themselves smarter than a Valley farmer or housewife or schoolteacher or anyone really.Conterra

Once in a while something comes along I can get behind, something that holds out hope. Of course the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley is a great example. Senator Melissa Hurtado goes against party lines working to provide funding for infrastructure and prevent hostile countries from taking over land and the appendant water rights. And on the federal side there’s Congressman David Valadao. Wait until you see what he’s up to.

Bio Illogical Opinions

Water in California is both a federal and state problem, solution to problems and a power game. But the day to day is more of a fight against the state. The federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project intersect in a couple of places, the Delta and San Luis Reservoir. Before 2019 the biological opinions used to guide Delta operations for water exports and be in line with environmental regulations, were based on the calendar and had been for more than a decade. From such and such a date until such and such a date you have to stop pumping to save endangered fish. The problem is fish don’t have calendars and even if they did there’s really no debate about a fish’s ability to read a calendar.

In 2019 the biological opinions were reviewed, for some reason it was called a re-consultation, instead of just a review. New biological opinions were developed on the latest available science. As it turns out improved monitoring and other advances allowed a much clearer picture of what was happening with endangered fish. The pumps could be operated in time with actual conditions and not just by a calendar. If you think this sounds like a better way to protect endangered fish you’d be right. Unless you’re an anti-agricultural environmental group then it’s horrible because more water could be exported. Even though it could safely be exported and fish habitat improved it was bad – it meant more water for farmers and the communities in the San Joaquin Valley that depend on agriculture.

It’s hard to fight the facts when science and logic isn’t on your side. That’s why it was necessary to resort to politics. You may recall Donald Trump was President in 2019. Had Trump made an offhand remark that Copernicus and Galileo’s efforts advanced the science of astronomy that would have been enough to cause some folks to declare the sun revolves around the earth.

In blatant political theater the Newsom Administration sued over the biops demanding they be reversed to operate the same as the last day of President Barack Obama’s term. When Joe Biden became President his administration set the gears in motion to open up the re-consultation proceedings again, a re-re-consultation. It took 10-years to update the science last time. Now in less than two years the administration is trying to turn back the clock in Delta operations. What can be done about it?

H.R.9084 – WATER for California Act

Valadao authored H.R. 9084, the Working to Advance Tangible and Effective Reforms for California Act. Also known as the WATER for California Act. The purpose of the bill is to bring more water to the Central Valley by focusing on operational stability, infrastructure, and accountability in water decisions.

“For too long, the Central Valley has suffered from devastating drought conditions, unfair water allocations, and a gross mismanagement of the water we do have by Sacramento bureaucrats and environmentalists,” said Valadao. “This bill will bring more water to the farmers, businesses, and rural communities in the Valley and throughout California, doing everything possible to survive this devastating drought. I promised my constituents that I would fight to secure a reliable and clean supply of water for our communities.”

A statement from Valadao’s office says the comprehensive legislation promotes water conveyance through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, consistent with the Endangered Species Act, and advances key surface water infrastructure projects. For the past two years, South-of-Delta agricultural repayment and water service contractors have received zero percent of their allocation from the CVP. This has resulted in extreme water loss for both agricultural producers and rural communities.

A provision of H.R. 9084 allocates funds to the Shasta Reservoir Enlargement Project. The Shasta Enlargement is the most per acre/foot cost-effective surface water storage project in California, but the infrastructure bill explicitly excludes any of the $1.15 billion allocated for storage projects from going to the Shasta Project. And H.R. 9084 also reauthorizes the successful surface water storage project program and coordinated operations of the CVP and SWP established by the WIIN Act. The WIIN Act expired in 2021.

Showing Off the Valley

On October 26th Valadao hosted Oregon Congressman Cliff Bentz on a tour of the San Joaquin Valley with stops at Friant Dam where Friant Water Authority CEO Jason Phillips and others gave a presentation on how the CVP works and how the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley can help save perhaps more than a million acres of farmland, wildlife habitat and families and communities dependent on the Valley’s ag based economy.

Other stops included Kings River Water Association, Westlands Water District and the Kern County Water Authority. Bentz is not just a water attorney elected to represent a heavy agricultural area of a neighboring state. He’s the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. Also known as WOW. The current Chair of WOW is Congressman Jared Huffman, former senior legal advisor for the Natural Resources Defense Council. The NRDC regularly sues to prevent surface water from entering or water originating here remaining in the Valley. If the House majority flips Bentz will be Chair of WOW, one of the most powerful positions dealing with water in congress. Good for him and good for us as Bentz now knows what’s at stake here and has met folks firsthand.

What Others Are Saying

H.R. 9084 has a lot of support locally and in Washington DC. Here are some quotes: “We applaud Congressman Valadao’s continued efforts to improve long-term water supply and reliability for the Central Valley and California.  The introduction of the WATER Act continues these efforts,” Chris White, CEO Exchange Contractors. White added he looks forward to building consensus and support for the bill.

“As conflicts over water availability in California continues to escalate, we need to find creative, adaptive means of meeting species’ needs while also meeting the needs of communities, farms, and businesses.  The WATER for California Act continues the spirit and legacy of two other efforts that began moving things in the direction of that goal: the bipartisan WIIN Act of 2016 and the 2019 Biological Opinion for the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. On behalf the Friant Division’s farms and communities, I thank Reps. McCarthy, Valadao, and each co-sponsor in the House of Representatives for introducing legislation that responds to the urgency and severity of California’s worsening water conflicts,” said Phillips.

Tom Birmingham General Manager of Westlands Water District said the WATER for California Act will benefit the cities, farms, and ecosystems throughout California that depend on the Central Valley Project and State Water Project for water supply. That’s a point often missed by the anti-agriculturist – besides the benefit of food preventing starvation the economic engine powered by agriculture benefits the entire state.

“We appreciate the tireless efforts of Congressman Valadao and his colleagues to work with numerous interested parties to fashion approaches that are achievable and provide the best possible opportunity to obtain a stable and adequate supply of water for Kern County and the entire state of California,” said Tom McCarthy, General Manager, Kern County Water Agency.

Legislative Support

There is a good deal of congressional support for H.R. 9084. In addition to lining up Bentz’s support Valadao has some other big guns on board.

Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said, “In a state like California, access to reliable and affordable water is more pressing than ever, and I applaud his [Valadao] efforts to advance commonsense solutions to ensure our constituents get the water they contract and pay for and improve California’s drought resiliency.”  McCarthy also praised Valadao for his leadership on water issues. McCarthy represents a wide swath of the Valley and if the House flips will most likely become the Speaker.

Support for the bill isn’t limited to the Valley. Southern California also depends on a sane and rational management of the Delta.

Congressman Mike Garcia represents Santa Clarita, Simi Valley and Palmdale, “This bill provides funding for water storage projects across the state and limits the damages that Governor Newsom and federal bureaucrats can inflict. Far too many Californians struggle with water shortages, including tens-of-thousands in my district alone. The provisions in this bill will make us more resilient against water shortages and droughts. I am a proud co-sponsor of this bill and will continue to fight against the misguided priorities in Sacramento that values water for fish over people.”

H.R. 9084 has found favor with other Southern California Representatives. “I’m proud to support Congressman Valadao’s WATER for California Act because it represents the kind of bipartisan, consensus-based approach that will make a lasting difference for California’s residents and its farmers. This creative legislation will achieve better resource coordination, enhanced water infrastructure, and improve essential water conveyance through the Delta,” said Rep Darrel Issa.

Again, Voting is Important

Well, there you have it, some things to look forward to in the water world like the possibility of better legislation. But if you don’t vote or don’t vote for candidates willing to put it all on the line you’ll get what the powers that be want to give you – and you’re not going to like it. You have a chance to do a very American thing between now and 8pm, Tuesday November 8th, exercise your right to vote.

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