2.16.2012 Costa: Cooperation Needed to Bring More Water to Valley

 Washington, D.C. – Congressman Jim Costa (D-Fresno) urged bipartisan cooperation on comprehensive solutions to California’s water challenges during the House Natural Resources Committee consideration of H.R. 1837, the San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act. Historically, the Central Valley has borne the brunt of sacrifices in previous California water compromises. While Costa voted to advance the bill out of committee, he renewed his call for the bill’s authors to work with Democrats in order to improve chances of actually delivering more water to the Valley.

“Our historic water wars will not be resolved by standing in the trenches,” Costa said.  “This legislation is not a silver bullet, but rather a work in progress. We all share the goal of providing a sustainable, reliable water supply for farmers in the Valley, but without genuine bipartisan engagement in the House and Senate, it will never bring another drop of water to the Valley.”

Costa offered a commonsense amendment to authorize the expansion of the Shasta Dam to create a more sustainable water supply for the Central Valley by increasing water storage capacity. In working with the bill’s sponsors during the markup, alternate language was added to the bill that would provide for increased storage.

Costa also pointed out that H.R. 1837 is not the only legislation put forth to address California’s water challenges.  Costa urged the committee’s chairman to hold a hearing on legislation he introduced, H.R. 1251, the More Water for Our Valley Act, which would provide congressional direction for the implementation of the Endangered Species Act and restore balance to water management in California. Costa’s legislation would provide certainty to the Valley’s water supply while long-term solutions like the Bay Delta Conservation Plan are carried out.

The remarks Costa delivered at the markup are below.

H.R. 1837 is before us, and like any other piece of legislation we are dealing with, it is certainly not perfect.

 

It is a work in progress, but I intend to support the legislation because of a number of important sections that I think it contains.

 

This bill tackles many issues that I and others have been working on for many, many years. But, let me be clear: no one has done more than yours truly to bring water to the San Joaquin Valley in the near term and the long-term.

 

From the completion of the Intertie, which has been operational as of last month: 35,000 acre-feet; the authorization of the Kern County Water Bank: 1.2 million acre-feet of water; the raising of the Kaweah Reservoir: 48,000 acre feet of water back in the late 1990s; the list goes on and on.

 

I have been a fighter for water for our Valley for my entire career both in Sacramento and now here in our nation’s capitol.

 

Titles I and III of the legislation aim to address one of the biggest challenges for water policy in California. In 2009 and 2010, not only did we have a hydrological drought, but we had a regulatory drought. Titles I and III go a long way, including the recent court decisions last year with the biological opinions to provide administrative clarity to allow us the flexibility necessary.

 

This year we are at 18% of normal snowpack, last year we were at 174%. We need that operational flexibility. Who knows?  We hope it will rain a lot in March. However, we are faced again with this potential challenge.

 

The measure is similar in concept to legislation that I introduced with Congressman Cardoza last year, H.R. 1251 - the More Water for Our Valley Act of 2011. That bill seeks to provide Congressional direction with implementation of the Endangered Species Act as it relates to restoring a balance in water availability, which is sorely lacking. I would hope that maybe we can get a hearing on that bill.

 

Title II of this measure repeals and replaces the San Joaquin River Restoration Act. It’s certainly going to be one of the most contentious provisions.  Congressman Radanovich – who is no longer with us – and Senator Feinstein were asked after 18 years of litigation, when the parties that were a part of that litigation decided that it was better to reach an out of court Settlement Agreement to provide legislation to implement that Settlement Agreement.

 

I don’t think Congressman Radanovich, Senator Feinstein or myself would have come up with the provisions that were a part of that Settlement Agreement.

 

But, I believe in local government. And, when local government decided it was better, (i.e. the 22 water districts) to reach a Settlement Agreement than to let the court determine, then I have to respect the opinion of those 22 water districts.

 

They asked them to introduce the legislation in 2006.  It took three years to implement it. The Friant water users who put forth the water and the money in an effort to restore the salmon, according to the Settlement Agreement, continue, notwithstanding the provisions of this proposal, to uphold that Settlement Agreement.

 

I will read to you a letter that they sent last year to the Chairman of the Subcommittee:

 

“Title II of the H.R. 1837 would repeal the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act and prohibit further federal participation in the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement. The Friant Water Authority is a party to the Settlement as approved by the Federal Courts in 2006 and thus has a contractual obligation to comply with the Settlement and therefore opposes amendments to the Settlement Act that are not agreed to by the Settling Parties. Friant Water Authority will continue to fulfill its obligations under the Settlement so long as the other Settling Parties, including the Federal Government, continue to fulfill their obligations.”

 

So, where are we? We have problems with the implementation of the Settlement Agreement. I have suggested to the Department of the Interior that they delay the implementation of the Settlement Agreement. There are third party impacts that aren’t being responded to. They need to be responded to.

 

But, to simply repeal this, I don’t believe it’s going to solve a problem. Because guess what? I think they are going to be back in court the next day if this legislation were to become law.

 

To be viable, you’ve got to include all the stakeholders.

 

Title IV of this bill attempts to protect the water rights of other water users under the legislation by codifying those rights as a part of federal law. I believe there is an amendment from one of our colleagues that would make this simply apply only to California. I am concerned this may not be the best idea in the long term. It certainly, under federalism, does not respect states right in this instance and I think it is going to be problematic.

 

Anyway, I am going to support this legislation. I believe it is going to pass the Committee and I believe it will pass House, but I’d like to make a note about the authors of this legislation: I don’t think they have a sincere interest in working, at least with me, or Congressman Cardoza or Senator Feinstein. We have had a long history of working on a bipartisan basis.

 

It’s disappointing for me. It is disappointing for me, with the water challenges in California that traditionally and historically have not been partisan, but they have been regional.

 

And, I tell my colleagues from other states unfortunately, we follow that Mark Twain adage about whiskey being made for drinking and water being made for fighting.

 

I want to make a final comment here, Mr. Chairman. Senator Feinstein has been a champion along with many of us, in trying to fight for water for our Valley. She has not been involved, nor have I, in a constructive effort to try to work on this legislation.

 

Let me make a prediction that unless we are willing to work together with the Senator, who has taken the lead on these water issues in the Senate, and with the Department of the Interior, this measure today as it is proposed will never become law. 

 

Therefore, it will never bring a single drop of water to our Valley, and it serves sadly and unfortunately as another political sound bite.

 

I think we can do better for our constituents, by working together on a bipartisan, bicameral basis to develop and implement solutions both in the short-term and the long-term.

 

These are the efforts that will really boost our water supply.

 

Thank you for allowing me to extend my remarks Mr. Chairman.