Western Caucus Members Participate in Field Hearing on Water Storage Challenges in the West

  • Natural Resources Water Hearing
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week, the House Committee on Natural Resources hosted a field hearing in Tulare, California, to examine California’s continued water storage issues and their impact on local communities. Congressional Western Caucus Executive Vice Chair Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Vice Chair and Chair of House Natural Resources Bruce Westerman (AR-04) and Western Caucus Members including Reps. Cliff Bentz (OR-02), David Valadao (CA-22), Tom McClintock (CA-05) and John Duarte (CA-13) participated.
“We hear in our committee from some of our opponents that 'oh this water storage is so expensive' and when you add the cost of the floods that we saw at the Dykstra Dairy here and the neighbors there, what they're going to get in crop losses and orchards being wiped out, the other damage you get from floods to communities and just everything else, the flood value itself,” said Executive Vice Chair Doug LaMalfa (CA-01). “Water storage means good things.”
“California, the state of California, God, nature, produces enough water to meet all your needs it's just a matter of managing that water, building the proper infrastructure to use it and it's frustrating that this problem can't get solved," said Vice Chair Bruce Westerman (AR-04). "We can be very good stewards and very good managers of the resources that we have.”
“Almost all of the western United States has been suffering from severe drought. This winter brought temporary relief in the form of record amounts of rain and snow. California is not prepared for such abundance and sadly will experience widespread and disastrous flooding. Since this cycle of drought and historic precipitation is likely to continue, it is imperative that we develop means of storing all of the rain and snow melt possible when it’s available to us,” said Rep. Cliff Bentz (OR-02). “Recharging aquifers, restoring our watersheds, raising the height of existing dams, and better managing our existing reservoirs are but a few of the many things California can do to turn devastating floods into usable water for cities, fish, and agriculture.”
“This situation we're seeing and the devastating flooding impacting our communities emphasizes the urgent need to be proactive about fixing some of our storage and infrastructure issues so that we are better prepared for these kinds of weather events and resilient to periods of drought,” said Rep. David Valadao (CA-22). “For too long, complex and contradictory laws and regulations that control much of how we're able to pump and what storage projects were able to move forward have amplified California's water problems.”
“Twice in a decade we've seen historic droughts followed by years of record rainfall, during the droughts our reservoirs were drawn down perilously low, half million acres of farmland was desiccated, thousands of farm workers lost their job,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (CA-05). “This year, we've experienced atmospheric rivers that have caused massive damage from flooding, the flood gates on those same dams are now wide open, they're pouring millions of acre feet of water into the ocean because we have no place to store the excess.”
“We are dealing with agencies, we have to call it out as it is, these are simply the Lords of Scarcity. They gain power over us by keeping us on the edge of privation. The working American family, the lowest 40% income of Americans, is spending 25% of their annual income on food alone. Yet we’re taking probably God’s greatest agricultural gift, we’ve got the largest watershed in the world, with the Sierra Nevadas, we’ve got the largest precipitation bank in the world with the Pacific Ocean, we’ve got the largest, most fertile valley in the world with the Central Valley, and we’ve got the biggest Mediterranean climate in the world,” said Rep. John Duarte (CA-13). “And yet, the most prosperous nation in the world, if California was a nation, with the biggest innovation hubs—San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles—won’t invest one-third of 1% of its annual GDP to create two or three generations of water infrastructure.”
These Congressional Western Caucus Members heard from the following witnesses during the field hearing: 
  • Tony DeGroot, Farmer, DG Bar Ranches
  • Aaron Fukuda, General Manager, Tulare Irrigation District
  • Jason Phillips, Chief Executive Officer, Friant Water Authority
  • Jeff Sutton, General Manager, Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority
  • Chris White, Executive Director, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority
  • William Bourdeau, Director, Westlands Water District
“This year’s rain and snowpack will be another wasted blessing if we watch it go by and do not invest in our dry, future years,” said Tony DeGroot. “We need more infrastructure by way of canals, sinking basins, reservoirs, pipelines, pumps would also make the use of new expanded dams more valuable, allowing all farmers to have increased access to surface water.”
“Our region has suffered from these climactic swings between wet and dry and we haven’t been given the tools to prepare ourselves for these wet and dry years with limited investment in aging and new infrastructure along with the burdensome regulatory atmosphere we find ourselves here in California,” said Aaron Fukuda.
“California water shortages are not due to hydrology. Our water management system was designed specifically to manage this volatile hydrology and weather through the dry years,” said Jason Phillips. “But currently, even our system of dams and canals cannot meet the state’s water needs because decades after they were built, the government will no longer allow our water infrastructure to operate the way it was intended.”
“Agriculture is our economy, and when that goes bad, our communities suffer greatly,” said Jeff Sutton. “The system is broken, we’ve got to fix it. These crises are predictable, it’s going to stop raining again, we’re going to experience droughts. But they’re preventable if we make the right investments.”
“As the current flood circumstances demonstrate, maintenance and reestablishment of conveyance capacities over local flood channels and water conveyance infrastructure is vitally needed to save water for future droughts,” said Chris White.
“Our water management system needs to be adapted and to be improved. We need to modernize the state’s water infrastructure, particularly storage, so that we can capture more water when it’s plentiful and preserve it for when it’s dry,” said William Bourdeau. “We also need smarter, science-based regulatory approaches that will allow for biological-based management that achieves environmental goals, adaptively manages resources to optimize overall benefits and encourages cooperation rather than conflict.”

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