Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Thursday 01/23/14

California Drought Highlights Ongoing Water Battles

The drought in California has again put a spotlight on the state's water challenges as members of Congress seek to shift water to Central Valley farmers and divert water away from environmental obligations.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was in Bakersfield, Calif., on Wednesday to throw his support behind the effort. Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, praised the Speaker and three Republican congressmen advocating for diverting more water to crops.

"The drought is doing great damage to farmers, farm workers and many other people who are part of the most productive agriculture state in the country," Boehner said. "Federal regulatory decisions made last year in the Delta made this situation much worse, by failing to pump and store more than 800,000 acre feet of winter runoff. The federal agencies charged with implementing fish species protections in the Delta declined to use their available discretion to capture that water, instead letting it flow out to sea."

Similar battles flared up in 2009 as farmers and laborers in the Central Valley protested against northern California holding back water to protect endangered fish such as the delta smelt, a minnow. Federal judges had ruled in favor of environmentalists to stop water from flowing south.

Roughly 3 million acres of crop land in the state relies heavily on surface water flowing through both federal and state canals. Nassif noted the state's water system is overdue for upgrades. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger attempted to push a water plan to build more storage reservoirs on a ballot measure in 2009 but it failed.

"There is so much to be done, but there has been so little action in Congress so far," Nassif noted Wednesday. "We hope that the Speaker’s engagement today marks a willingness by members of both parties and both houses of Congress to work toward bipartisan solutions to the water supply crisis that threatens thousands of America’s most productive farmers and thousands more whose livelihood is tied to their survival."

Politically, Boehner's presser in California also reflects a belief that Republicans could make gains among California Latino voters by highlighting the high jobless rate in the region and point to environmental rulings on the issue.

"How you can favor fish over people is something people in my part of the world would never understand," Boehner said in the Associated Press article.

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Posted at 12:05PM CST 01/23/14 by Chris Clayton
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