House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has called the years-long drought plaguing his home state of California a matter of life and death. And now he's got a plan that he thinks can fix it.
The California Republican delegation, along with other key Western lawmakers, today introduced a bill that would loosen environmental restrictions on water being pumped to farms and cities in the drought-ridden Central Valley. The bill, officially introduced by David Valadao, also would free up major water storage projects in the west, offering more flexibility for the construction of dams and reservoirs.
Sponsors are touting the bill as the best shot for Congress to address the drought that's forced California to impose mandatory water restrictions. But it remains to be seen whether it can get support from Democrats, environmentalists, and the fishing industry, who have fought back other GOP bills that they say would overstep the Endangered Species Act while only delivering a short-term fix to the water crisis.
Of the 22 original cosponsors of the bill, only one—California Rep. Jim Costa—is a Democrat.
The bill would sidestep a Fish and Wildlife Service order that restricted the amount of water pumped to farms and cities, instead letting it flow to sea in order to protect the Delta smelt, a threatened fish species. The bill would reopen those spigots and allow water to flow from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the agriculture-rich Central Valley until regulators can prove that the smelt and other species, such as the salmonid (a family of fish including various types of salmon), are being harmed by the pumping. Should they find the fish are being harmed, regulators would then have to undertake a study of viable alternatives before against imposing the limit. It also requires federal regulators to consider different surveys and monitoring techniques in evaluating the fish population.