House GOP overrides Endangered Species Act protections to pass California water bill

The bill would undermine years of conservation efforts in Northern California

By Lindsay Abrams

Published February 6, 2014 2:19PM (EST)

Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would override federal rules and protections in California to allocate more water to farmers.

It would allow state and federal officials to pump more water out the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta in Northern California, a source of drinking water to 22 million Californians and home to endangered salmon, in what Gov. Jerry Brown called “an unwelcome and divisive intrusion into California’s efforts to manage this severe crisis" and Rep. John Garamendi (D) referred to as "a theft of water from someone to give to somebody else, plain and simple."

California, fresh off its driest year since record-keeping began in 1879, is now in the midst of what Gov. Jerry Brown has termed a "mega-drought," with little relief in sight. State officials have cut off water to local agencies servicing 25 million residents, and while 17 communities are in danger of running out of water within 60 to 120 days, it's farmers and the fishing industry that have so far been most severely affected.

Amid all that, state officials are emphasizing the need to use water "as wisely as possible." To the GOP, that means targeting river restoration efforts, framing it as an issue of "fish versus the people" in order to do so.

But as Think Progress explains, such claims are more about scoring political points than an accurate reflection of reality. The bill's backers are insisting that the drought is "man-made," refusing to acknowledge that climate change may have intensified the state's drought conditions and instead placing all the blame on the environmental regulations. According to experts, however, overriding the Endangered Species Act is unlikely to relieve the water shortage -- environmental restrictions only account for 15 to 20 percent of recent cutbacks to the water supply -- and will further threaten California's fishing industry, which is relying on the resurgence of salmon populations.

The bill is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, and the Obama administration indicated that it might veto it, explaining that such legislation would "undermine years of collaboration between local, state, and federal stakeholders to develop a sound water quality control plan for the Bay-Delta."

Lindsay Abrams

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California Drought Endangered Species Act House Gop Jerry Brown