Action Alert! Speak Up for CA Rivers Threatened by Drought Bills
By: Megan Hooker
The Senate unanimously passed a drought relief bill for California last night. While "The Emergency Drought Relief Act" was crafted in a way that made it difficult for Senators to oppose, there's a good chance that important river protections, restoration efforts and the Wild and Scenic Merced will get caught in the middle when the bill is merged with its corresponding bill in the House. Help us keep these river protections strong! Contact your Senators and Representatives to speak up for rivers in California and Wild and Scenic Rivers everywhere!
As California and Southern Oregon face extreme drought conditions, legislators are looking for ways to bring more water to parched farms, ranches, and residents. Several drought-relief bills have been introduced in recent months, including Senator Dianne Feinstein's "Emergency Drought Relief Act" (S. 2198) and "The San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act" (H.R. 3964) introduced by Representatives David Valadao, Devin Nunes and Kevin McCarthy, which passed the House in February. H.R. 3964 overrides important federal and state environmental protections, guts key elements of the 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act, de-designates the Wild and Scenic Merced, and is opposed by the Obama Administration. Although Senator Feinstein initially called H.R. 3964 disingenuous, irresponsible and dangerous, the House and Senate are gearing up to merge the bills in conference.
A provision in S. 2198 calls for addressing the drought with "policies that do not pit stakeholders against one another, which history has shown only leads to costly litigation that benefits no one and prevents any real solutions." If the House and Senate hold to this standard, we believe that changing Wild and Scenic designations, building new or higher dams, and permanently gutting important environmental protections should be off the table.
Unfortunately, S. 2198 also requires the federal government to approve "any project or operations to provide additional water supplies if there is any possible way whatsoever…" The language of the bill does not specify whether these "water supply projects" include expanding storage. American Whitewater is concerned that this could open the door wide for efforts to de-designate the Wild and Scenic Merced River and flood it by raising New Exchequer Dam and expanding McClure Reservoir. H.R. 3964, on the other hand, does have explicit provisions for de-designating the Wild and Scenic Merced. Senator Feinstein stated that she would be willing to consider additional storage in the final version. We're deeply concerned about where this is headed.
More storage is not the answer. Taller dams just become taller concrete walls in river beds when the rain doesn't come, and rolling back a Wild and Scenic River boundary won't change that. Instead, there are other ways to increase storage that should be considered before any dams in the state are raised or new ones are built. This includes re-evaluating existing reservoir project operations to balance the need for flood control while maximizing storage opportunities.
Contact your Senators and Representatives and ask them to keep the Wild and Scenic Merced out of any future drought related negotiations and to defend important environmental protections for California's rivers. You don't have to live in Californa to make an impact. Contacting Senators and Representatives from across the country is important.
Widespread Concern About Drought Bills
American Whitewater has numerous additional concerns about both bills, neither of which have undergone a hearing. To learn more, visit Maven's Notebook. We're not alone. Representative Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) said that he didn't think there was a reason for the bill, and that the House and Senate conferences will make a bad will worse. Representative Jared Huffman (D-San Rafeal) also expressed concern about how moving forward with S. 2198 will open the door only for making the situation worse. Represenatitives Thompson and Huffman were joined by five other Representatives from California in opposing S. 2198.
Environmental protections did not cause the drought, and rolling them back won't fix the problem. Take action today and speak up for healthy rivers!