Responding to the California Drought
California is hurting.
In response to the worst drought in our state’s long memory, our public institutions—with one unfortunate exception—are stepping up.
Governor Brown and the legislature passed long-overdue groundwater and sustainable water investments through last year’s $7.5 billion water bond. Local governments and water districts are launching conservation plans to preserve dwindling water supplies. The Obama administration is providing millions in emergency grants to drought-stricken communities and farmers.
But some in Congress have treated the drought as a political opportunity instead of a moral imperative. They’ve dusted off the same political agenda they’ve pursued for years: weakening environmental laws, gutting fishery protections, and redirecting water needed by other regions—and tried to sell it as a drought response.
With something as complicated and important as California water, we really should make sure everyone has a say. Last month I asked you to share your ideas for a congressional response to the California drought. After six weeks of unprecedented public input, I was proud to introduce the Drought Relief and Resilience Act (H.R. 2983) based on ideas and feedback from nearly 1,000 Californians. People weighed in from San Diego to Crescent City, Fresno to San Francisco, as well as farmers, environmentalists, fishermen, urban and rural Californians, and water managers throughout the country.
As a result of this significant public outreach, the Drought Relief and Resilience Act now includes significant technical changes and improvements throughout. The bill also features an entirely new section that will help homeowners weather the drought and reduce their water bills by providing a $2,000 tax credit for the purchase and installation of water-capture and harvesting systems.
We need to work together to get through this drought. That’s why I developed the kind of serious, comprehensive legislation this crisis demands.
My bill provides emergency funding to stretch existing water supplies: deploying efficient irrigation technology, drilling wells, and building pipelines. It also helps out-of-work farmworkers and combats upstream water theft on federal lands.
Scientists warn that future droughts will be more frequent and more severe due to climate change, and we need to prepare. My bill fully funds existing programs so we can quickly upgrade treatment facilities, repair leaking pipes, and improve urban and agricultural water use efficiency so we can become more drought resilient. It makes major federal investments to improve desalination technology and dramatically expand water recycling. It will help us recharge depleted groundwater aquifers and clean up those that have been contaminated by pollutants, and help us better manage headwater forests and watersheds.
We can’t just keep lurching from one crisis to the next, and my bill helps us plan for the worst. We call in the National Guard when floods overwhelm a state, but when communities run dry we have no plans to deploy military resources—including mobile desalination technology. Disaster response agencies should start planning for the worst right now. Fisheries managers should prepare, too, for years of warmer, depleted streams.
Read more about my bill HERE.
My bill reflects four basic principles that should guide Congress in responding to this and future droughts:
- Do no harm—ours is a complex system, and we should not redirect impacts or micromanage it from Washington.
- No water wars—end attempts to gut environmental laws and take water from other regions. Solutions must respect environmental and water quality laws, and benefit every region impacted by this drought.
- Think long-term—we should respond not just to the immediate crisis but build drought resiliency for the future.
- Process matters—successful water initiatives require transparency, inclusiveness, and deliberation. Back room deals and secret water grabs invariably create more problems than they solve.
I’ve been reaching out to stakeholders, economists, farmers, conservationists, and California’s top water managers to make my bill the best it can be. Before I formally introduce it, I’d like you to join them in giving your feedback.
Our water future deserves an open debate leading to real solutions.
Here’s what major California newspaper editorials are saying about my bill:
Section by section factsheet:
Read my full bill below.