By Rep. Mimi Walters (CA-45)
This year marks California’s fourth consecutive year of drought. To break it down, nearly 99 percent of California is in “moderate drought,” 71 percent is in “extreme drought,” and approximately 47 percent is in “exceptional drought” – the most severe category. In California alone, over 37 million people are impacted by the drought, and the economic cost of the drought is expected to be nearly $3 billion dollars. The drought is also having a significant impact on one of California’s key industries: agriculture. According to a recent UC Davis study, projections for 2015 show that approximately 18,600 agriculture-related jobs will be lost and about 564,000 acres will be fallowed because of the drought.
As I have long maintained, our current drought crisis is not a result of a lack of rain. It is a result of California’s failed liberal policies that have prioritized the three-inch Delta smelt over the needs of families, farmers and communities in California. While we cannot control our drought conditions, we can control our water storage capabilities that will help us properly prepare for future drought conditions.
House Resolution 2898, The Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., seeks to address our current water crisis in California and bordering Western states. I’m proud to be an original cosponsor of this bill that would rein in burdensome government regulations, modernize our water infrastructure into the 21st century and ensure our great state is well-equipped to handle future drought crises.
Currently, California’s water storage and delivery system is equipped to serve only 22 million people, yet the state’s current population holds over 38 million residents. It is imperative that we address our water supply issues beyond conservation efforts, which is why the construction of new water storage projects is essential. Unfortunately, a complex federal regulatory scheme has hindered the development of new water storage projects.
For these reasons, our bill contains provisions that streamline the permitting delays that plague the construction of new or expanded water storage systems. Under the legislation, the Bureau of Reclamation would be required to complete future feasibility studies within three years after the date of initiation and have a maximum federal cost of $3 million. Furthermore, our bill would also authorize the Bureau of Reclamation to consider additional projects including those that increase water storage capacity – while evaluating corrective actions during dam maintenance inspections. This provision would be the equivalent of authorizing a mechanic to make other necessary repairs while performing scheduled maintenance on one’s car.
Our legislation also improves science and transparency measures by requiring federal and state agencies to use the best and most up-to-date science available when making water management decisions. Further, it requires that the public has access to the scientific data. By utilizing better and more accurate science, federal agencies will have operational flexibility to maximize pumping levels while still meeting the needs of protected listed species in the San Joaquin Delta. Additionally, certain water projects in the Central Valley would be authorized to increase water flows during peak storm periods.
As California’s drought has recently gone from nuisance to crisis, now is the time for Congress to pass responsible legislation that will eliminate the regulatory burden and provide Californians with the water security they need. I look forward to voting in support of H.R. 2898 this week.
Republican Congresswoman Mimi Walters represents California's 45th Congressional District.