(Refiles to fix typographical error in 7th paragraph)
By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. Feb 3 California Governor
Jerry Brown, whose state is facing its worst drought in decades,
harshly criticized on Monday an effort by Congressional
Republicans to roll back environmental rules limiting how much
water agencies can pump out of the fragile San
Joaquin-Sacramento River delta in dry years.
The emergency legislation would allow state and federal
water managers to send water to farms and communities in
California's parched breadbasket next summer, when the impact of
the drought begins to hit hardest. The legislation is scheduled
for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.
It would roll back pumping restrictions imposed over the
past two decades that required officials to keep a certain
amount of water flowing through the delta to protect fish. In
wet years, restrictions decreased, but for the past three dry
years, little pumping has been allowed, and barring an onslaught
of rain, none is expected to be allowed this year.
Brown, in a strongly worded letter to leaders of the Natural
Resources committee, said the GOP proposal was "unwelcome and
intrusive," and would undermine years of progress in the state's
water and environmental management efforts.
"It would override state laws and protections, and mandate
that certain water interests come out ahead of others," Brown
wrote. "It falsely suggests the promise of water relief when
that is simply not possible given the scarcity of water
In his letter, Brown emphasized the severity of the drought,
saying the state had taken unprecedented action to deal with it,
including creating a plan to build more reservoirs and help
communities purchase water from other sources.
This week, managers of a federally run project that sends
water from the delta to the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere are
widely expected to announce that it will be able to provide
little, if any, water next summer because of environmental rules
that restrict pumping if water levels become too low.
Last week, a state project with a similar mission said it
would take no water out of the delta this year.
Brown has already urged Californians to cut back their water
use by 20 percent, and additional measures are expected to be
announced this week. The state has banned fishing in numerous
rivers and streams, and identified 17 communities at risk of
running out of water if alternate sources are not found.
Water has long been a contentious issue in California, where
Sierra Nevada snow melt and resources from the delta are used to
water agricultural land and slake the thirst of urban centers.
Over the past 20 years, restrictions have been put in place
on pumping water from the delta during dry years to protect fish
U.S. Congressman David Valadao, a San Joaquin Valley
Republican and a lead author of the bill, said in a statement
that the state's looming water shortages were the result of
"failed government policies," compounded by drought. He was not
immediately available for comment on Monday.
His legislation would overturn years of court decisions and
other efforts to protect the delta under the federal Endangered
Species Act, but would leave in place an agreement from 1994
that supporters say would still offer protection to wildlife.
Had his measure been in place last year, agencies could have
provided an additional 800,000 acre-feet of water to farms and
communities, a staff member said.
At the state level, the measure has rankled the Democrats,
who make up majorities in both houses of the legislature.
Instead of rolling back environmental protections, Congress
should help pay for reservoirs, water recycling plants and other
infrastructure, said Democratic State Senator Lois Wolk, who
represents suburbs east of San Francisco along with much of
California's famed Napa Valley wine country.
"We can use federal partners, not partisan stunts," she
But the proposed Congressional bill has won strong support
from Republicans in the legislature, who also support a bond
measure to build more reservoirs and water storage facilities.
"It makes absolutely no sense to have water going down the
San Joaquin River for a lost tribe of salmon that have been gone
for 60 years," said Republican state Senator Andy Vidak, also of
Hanford. "There will continue to be real human suffering without
strong and immediate leadership on the water crisis."
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and