California drought draws attention in D.C.


Issue Date: February 17, 2016
By Dave Kranz
During a meeting in his U.S. Capitol office, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, left, discusses prospects for federal drought legislation with California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger and First Vice President Jamie Johansson.
Photo/Dave Kranz
Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, left, reviews a packet of information about key Farm Bureau issues during a Capitol Hill meeting with California Farm Bureau board members John Ellis of Hanford, Kathye Rietkerk of Fontana and Ronnie Leimbruber of Holtville, left to right.
Photo/Dave Kranz

In meeting rooms more than 2,200 miles from the slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the California drought dominated discussions as the California Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors met with congressional representatives and agency officials in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., announced her introduction of California drought legislation as she met with the CFBF board last week, and both she and members of the House of Representatives lamented the loss of water that has been allowed to flow out to sea during this winter's El Niño storms.

Feinstein said her bill includes "short-term operational provisions" to allow more water to be pumped into storage during times of heavy runoff.

Congressional Republicans—who proposed a separate drought-relief bill that passed the House last year—said the Feinstein bill does not go far enough to generate additional water supplies. But they said they hope the Senate will adopt the bill and send it to a House-Senate conference committee that would produce a final bill.

"While Senator Feinstein's bill fails to provide real water to my constituents, I hope she is able to secure passage of the legislation in the Senate so that the two chambers may go to conference and reconcile the differences between both bills," said Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, who introduced the House drought-relief bill last year.

Introduction of the Senate bill sets the stage for potential debate on the legislation this year. Feinstein said she would ask the chair and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to hold a markup session on the bill and schedule it for debate.

CFBF President Paul Wenger thanked Feinstein for introducing the bill, noting that she "has never been shy about tackling the tough issues," and urged the Senate to pass the bill so it can advance to conference with the House bill.

"It's key to move a bill through the Senate that complements the legislation passed by the House," Wenger said. "We will analyze the bill carefully and will continue to urge the entire California congressional delegation to work toward common-sense solutions to our state's chronic water problems."

Wenger stressed that California's water system "needs to add more flexibility" to respond to changing precipitation patterns, adding that the system must be improved "to accommodate our people, our environment and our economy."

During its annual trip to the nation's capital, the CFBF board met with nearly two-dozen members of Congress, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, plus leaders of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The group also met with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, who expressed his concern about the national impact of the California drought and his willingness to help pursue solutions to California agricultural issues.

Although drought and water concerns often rose to the top, the CFBF delegation stressed a number of issues during meetings with congressional representatives. Among them:

  • The benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation agreement before Congress that would open export markets for California agricultural commodities and create jobs in agricultural trade.
  • A request for improved forest management to reduce wildfire risk, including a change in funding that eliminates the need for federal agencies to shift money away from forest management in order to pay to fight wildfires.
  • Ongoing opposition to the implementation of new "waters of the United States" regulations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers. Farm Bureau and other organizations say the regulation—which has been temporarily stayed by a court—would unnecessarily expand EPA authority to regulate normal farming practices and leave farmers and ranchers vulnerable to environmental lawsuits by third parties.
  • Environmental damage, economic losses and other hardships caused by illegal marijuana grows on both public and private land. CFBF urged Congress to hold a hearing on the impacts of marijuana grows and to set aside funding to help landowners with cleanup costs associated with illegal marijuana cultivation on private property.

The CFBF board also met with new American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall, who welcomed the board members to Washington. Duvall, who was elected last month to succeed retired AFBF President Bob Stallman, pledged to focus on issues including trade, technology, immigration reform and efforts to ease the impact of government regulation.

Duvall cited the EPA waters of the U.S. rule as a prime example of regulatory overreach, and said AFBF would continue to pursue efforts to have the rule repealed.

"We'll keep fighting for agriculture, because together we are much stronger than taking on battles alone," he said.

(Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at dkranz@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.