Western Caucus Members Spearhead Commonsense Western Water Reforms, Pass GROW Act

Jul 12, 2017
Press Release
 

       
       

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul A. Gosar D.D.S. (AZ-04), Executive Vice-Chairman Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-03), Western Caucus members Rep. David G. Valadao (CA-21), Rep. Ken Calvert (CA-42), Rep. Doug Lamborn (CO-05), Rep. Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), and Rep. Mimi Walters (CA-45) released the following statements after the House passed H.R. 23, the Gaining Responsibility on Water (GROW) Act with a bipartisan vote of 230-190, legislation that amends the Central Valley Project Improvement Act and the San Joaquin River Restoration Act, codifies the Bay-Delta Accord, allows for increased water storage, creates a one-stop permitting process, and prevents the federal government from pilfering private water rights:

“For years, Western communities have suffered as a result of frivolous lawsuits, inefficient policies and burdensome regulations that have prevented adoption of commonsense water solutions,” said Chairman Gosar. “Rather than capturing precious water supplies, failed government policies that refused to put the American people first allowed billions of gallons of water to be funneled into the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean. These deliberate diversions killed thousands of jobs, harmed our country’s food supply and led to local unemployment levels as high as 40 percent. I applaud Rep. Valadao for his leadership and urge the senate to pass this critical bill in a timely manner.” 

Congressman Tipton stated, “Water is the most precious resource in the arid West, and I am proud to join my colleagues in supporting legislation that cuts through federal bureaucracy to ensure Westerners have the water security they need in times of prolonged drought. I’m also pleased that so many of my colleagues recognize the importance of preserving privately-held water rights and upholding state water law. The water rights provisions in this bill will provide western water users with much-needed certainty and permanent protections from federal overreach.”

Congressman Valadao said, “For years, California’s sophisticated network of storage and delivery facilities have been sorely mismanaged, causing devastating impacts across the state. This problem has become even more apparent during the last several months. Despite record precipitation levels, families, farmers, and communities still lack access to a reliable supply of water.” He continued, “My bill, the GROW Act, will restore water deliveries, ensuring the Central Valley has access to a reliable water supply. I look forward to working with the Senate and sending this bill to the President’s desk.”

“The GROW Act builds upon the bipartisan water bill signed into law last year by providing even more long-term water solutions for California. Specifically, it expedites the consideration of feasibility studies for water storage projects that have languished for periods of time that are longer than it took to actually build the Hoover Dam. The GROW Act also includes provisions that are critical to Bay Delta operations and help improve water reliability. California can become drought proof if we build the storage and conveyance infrastructure necessary to collect and move the water we receive in wet years, so that we can utilize it during dry years. I’m a cosponsor of the GROW Act because it moves us closer in that direction,” stated Congressman Calvert.

      

As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Water, Power & Oceans, I am pleased to see that this important drought legislation has passed the House. Many in the West have seen first-hand how mismanagement of water infrastructure can devastate communities. This legislation will expand storage options and improve the permitting process to ensure that water is reliable, protected, and safe for wildlife. I applaud the passage of this important bill, and I look forward to more hard work in committee to safeguard our natural resources,” remarked Congressman Lamborn.

Congressman LaMalfa said: “In recent years, lack of rain combined with poor planning for future water infrastructure has caused California to experience severe droughts that have devastated agriculture, habitat, and the economy in general. That same lack of infrastructure has prevented us from storing enough water during a rainy season, like we’ve seen this year, to prevent flooding and save for the future. There are many potential water projects around the state that could have helped remedy this problem, but they have been trapped in bureaucratic limbo for many years, even decades. This bill would require the federal government to expedite the process of approving and completing water projects. Importantly, this legislation will also include protections for NorCal water rights and restore availability of water supply for California agriculture.”

“California’s recent drought demonstrated the urgent need to reform our failed water management policies.  Throughout my home district of Orange County, local water management efforts, like water storage projects, alleviated some of the severe drought conditions, but the crisis highlighted the importance of expanding water storage capabilities across California.  The GROW Act will ensure California is equipped to handle future droughts by alleviating regulatory burdens and streamlining the permitting process to allow for expedited water storage project construction throughout our state,” stated Congresswoman Walters.



Background:

Water powers the West and grows crops that feed the nation. In California, the Central Valley is the heart of agricultural production for the state, but the Central Valley Project’s (CVP’s) water storage and allocation problems are representative of the greater issues that have been plaguing Western states for decades. Nonsensical, inefficient and duplicitous regulatory schemes have exacerbated droughts, resulted in thieveries of private water rights and caused an imbalance in water use.

The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) overseas operation of the Central Valley Project’s in California. Each year, this massive conveyance system delivers approximately 5 million acre-feet of water to family farms, more than 1.2 million acre-feet to refugees, fish and wildlife, and roughly 600,000 acre-feet to municipal and industrial users. The CVP includes 20 dams and reservoirs, 11 power plants and more than 500 miles of other water related assets. The State of California oversees operation of the State Water Project (SWP).  For more than 30 years, the CVP and SVP have worked together to deliver water from Northern to Southern California.

In recent years, extremist groups have routinely sued to prevent water pumping from CVP and the SWP, claiming such action was necessary to protect a three-inch fish. These special-interests prioritized this species at the expense of other pressing concerns, including water storage, people and agricultural interests. These misguided actions caused significant harm to ranchers, farmers and local communities who were forced to endure repeated water crises while billions of gallons of water they could have used were diverted into the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean.  

Specifically, CVP and SWP contractors received only a small portion of their requests and severe cutbacks occurred as a result of these factors and other flawed policies. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reported, “Widespread drought conditions over the previous five years—coupled with low water supplies in the state’s major reservoirs and regulatory restrictions on CVP and SWP operations—affected sectors and areas throughout California. In 2015 and 2016, total statewide farm receipts declined sharply; cities and counties were required to institute major cutbacks and even water rationing in some cases. Many plant and animal populations declined, and a number of major wildfires occurred throughout the state. Some of these effects may linger for years.”

H.R. 23, The GROW Act, contains numerous provisions aimed at streamlining regional and federal water policy by making adjustments to existing statutory and regulatory frameworks as well as providing direction to agencies by simplifying and clarifying overlapping and disjointed regulatory compliance processes.  The bill contains provisions to strengthen property rights for those who own the rights to water, making it more difficult for the federal government to disrupt the state water-permitting process in place in Western states. H.R. 23 also improves species and habitat conservation efforts by ensuring adequate, effective resource use for implementation of relevant regulation, including the Endangered Species Act. In total, this package of reforms and its clarifying language will make it easier for landowners, agricultural producers, and those with controlling interests in waterways to plan and allocate scarce water resources and avert future drought in sensitive regions. A return to dependable and prudent water storage and allocation policy will shore up economic confidence, boost agricultural production, and reduce pressure on drought-stricken areas.

Titles I-IV provide for long-overdue improvements and fixes for California’s critical water infrastructure, allocation and storage policies. 

Title V includes Western Caucus member Tom McClintock’s Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act, a bill that will streamline the permitting process for important water storage projects. Its language creates a “one-stop-shop” process for permitting overseen by BOR. This process has up to now been the purview of multiple agencies that have struggled to coordinate and resolve conflicting requirements. The results have been costly delays for vital water and infrastructure projects—delays which have contributed to drought and water use inefficiencies across the West. Title V centralizes the process, establishing BOR as the sole authority throughout the permitting process. Under this language, BOR will be responsible for all reviews, analysis, opinions, statements, permits, licenses and other federal approvals required under federal law for the construction of water infrastructure projects. The bill will provide long-term benefits to water planning and infrastructure in the West—a major boost to public and private activity alike.

Title VI includes Western Caucus member and Chief Rules Officer Dan Newhouse’s Bureau of Reclamation Water Project Streamlining Act. This much-needed reform is needed to bring significant efficiency and timeliness improvements to BOR’s feasibility studies for surface water projects “owned, funded, or operated” by the agency.  It also requires the agency to report on the causes for delays in the completion of feasibility studies, which would be of great benefit for BOR’s internal monitoring of its processes as well as for the purpose of Congressional awareness and oversight. The majority of this language has already passed in the House as part of 2015’s Western Water and American Food Security Act, and the language was widely-supported then as it is now on account of its commonsense improvements to water permitting processes.  The West—and especially agriculture-heavy and drought-prone areas—cannot afford these needless BOR delays any longer.

Title VII includes Western Caucus Vice-Chairman Tipton’s Water Rights Protection Act. This bill will prevent the federal government from taking privately held water rights without just compensation. This legislation would protect a variety of water users including rural communities, businesses, recreation opportunities, farmers and ranchers as well as other individuals that rely on privately held water rights for their livelihood.  It does so by prohibiting federal agencies from extorting water rights through the use of permits, leases, and other land management arrangements, for which it would otherwise have to pay just compensation under the 5th Amendment of the Constitution. 

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