Huffman, Napolitano, DeFazio, Western Democrats Introduce Western Drought Relief Bill
WASHINGTON—Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) todayintroduced H.R. 4239, a bill to respond to California’s record drought and provide assistance to farmers and ranchers, businesses, and communities suffering in California and other western states. Huffman’s bill, supported by original cosponsors Grace Napolitano, Peter DeFazio, George Miller, John Garamendi, Mike Thompson, Jerry McNerney, Doris Matsui, Anna G. Eshoo, Sam Farr, Jackie Speier, Ami Bera, Juan Vargas, Alan Lowenthal, Scott Peters, and Matt Cartwright, provides emergency relief to affected agricultural producers and fishing communities, funds emergency drought relief projects, maintains critical environmental protections, and ensures that the United States will be better-prepared to respond to future droughts and natural disasters.
“Our bill builds on the constructive efforts by Senator Feinstein and others, including our state legislature and Governor Brown, by offering an aggressive drought response that is broad, effective, and honors existing laws and water rights,” Huffman said.
“The severe drought conditions in the west will have devastating impacts on our economy and the environment, including water and power, wildlife and fisheries, forest health and wildland fire management,” said House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio. “This is an incredibly difficult issue, with no easy solutions. I applaud Rep. Huffman for his good work to bring a coalition of federal, state, and local stakeholders together to work on a comprehensive, common sense bill to help mitigate the impacts of the drought in the west.”
“California businesses and families across the state are hurting as a result of one of the driest calendar years on record,” said Water & Power Subcommittee Ranking Member Grace Napolitano. “This legislation provides critical short-term relief for farmers and communities while helping them prepare for future drought cycles. We look forward to continuing to work together to create long-term solutions through recycling, conservation, desalination, and storage.”
Unlike the cynical and flawed House Republican water bill that passed the House on a largely party-line vote in February, Huffman’s bill meets two basic principles:
- We’re all in this together. All of California—and parts of several other western states—are impacted by the drought. Solutions must reflect that breadth and not focus only on one area of California. The new bill provides funding to assist impacted communities across California and across the West.
- Do no harm. One region’s problem should not be solved at the expense of other regions or other priorities. Redirected impacts are not a solution. The new drought relief bill respects existing law and water rights, and builds on ongoing state and federal efforts to respond to the drought.
- Accelerates planning and execution of water supply projects while maintaining critical environmental protections like the National Environmental Policy Act compliance.
- Includes an updated version of Congressman Huffman’s FORECAST Act, which would bring Army Corps reservoir operations in line with modern science, save water, and help communities through extreme weather events. The Army Corps of Engineers operates many of its reservoirs—critical for the water supply of cities and towns throughout the country—on outdated and obsolete water control manuals, some of which are as much as 60 years old. The new bill includes an emergency provision for faster updates during times of drought.
- Allows the Secretary of Agriculture to help cover losses caused by the drought.
- Ensures that the damages from California’s drought are properly recognized under the Stafford Act, ensuring Californians receive accurate and adequate disaster relief.
- Cracks down on illegal water diversions for marijuana cultivation. Illegal water diversions not only reduce available water for legal uses, but create a significant environmental threat in Northern California and other rural parts of the state. Huffman previously introduced a bill to crack down on such environmental damages.
- Authorizes water planning and management activities to reduce water use in the Klamath Basin in California and Oregon.
- Directs the President to update the National Response Plan and the National Disaster Recovery Framework to address plans for responding to catastrophic drought preparing for longer term, continued drought in California and the western United States.
- Requires the development of a California salmon drought plan to address impacts of drought on wild fisheries, those that support tribal fisheries and the commercial and recreational fishing industry.
- Urges the Secretary of Commerce to immediately declare a fisheries disaster and fast-tracks future processes to respond to disaster conditions, ensuring prompt assistance rather than years after a disaster.
- Requires that water agencies receiving assistance under the legislation are in full compliance with state laws regarding groundwater and agricultural water use.
- Includes sunset provisions ensuring that emergency provisions end once the drought declaration is revoked.
The bill includes the following emergency funding to respond to the drought:
- $255 million in emergency appropriations, including:
- $50 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund for projects in drought-affected states that reduce fire risk or assist water quality and capacity.
- $5 million for the Rural Water and Waste Disposal Program within the Rural Utilities Service to assist with rural water supply projects.
- $30 million for grants under the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.
- $15 billion for grants under the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
- $3 million for the Drug Enforcement Administration to assist in suppression of illegal trespass marijuana grows that diminish available water supply.
- $152 million available to the Bureau of Reclamation for projects, including $52 million for water conservation and efficiency projects, and to develop alternative water supplies, through the WaterSMART and Title XVI programs.
- $200 million in emergency disaster assistance including:
- $100 million in emergency assistance for farmers to fund water conservation measures that protect lands and sensitive watersheds.
- $25 million for Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grants that fund community projects to reduce harmful effects of the drought.
- $25 million to the Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants program for water conservation projects and to protect and upgrade water systems. These grants of up to $1 million are to complete projects that boost the availability and quality of drinking water, including in California communities at risk of running out of safe drinking water;
- $25 million in grant funding for public and nonprofit institutions to provide emergency assistance to low-income migrant and seasonal farmworkers harmed by the drought.
- $25 million in grants for private forest landowners to carry out conservation measures in response to drought and wildlife risks.
- $3 million in funding for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to carry out its work to respond to extreme drought conditions, including relocation of the release location and timing of hatchery fish and barging of hatchery release fish.
- $15 million for integrated regional water management projects that focus on water recycling and integrated water management on a watershed or regional scale.
The new House bill builds on legislation recently introduced by Senators Feinstein, Boxer, Wyden, and Merkley. A factsheet describing the differences may be found HERE.