Huffman Votes Against Cynical and Flawed House Republican Water Bill

February 05, 2014

WASHINGTON­—Today, Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) voted against a cynical, flawed House Republican water bill, the so-called Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act (H.R. 3964). The partisan bill does not create new water and would do nothing to alleviate the effects of California’s record drought, but would instead disrupt ongoing efforts to combat drought and would override decades of state and federal law.

If signed into law, H.R. 3964 would elevate junior water rights above the water needs of the North Coast, putting at risk the environment, fisheries and the fishermen that rely on them, as well as harming tribal water rights and fishing. It would bring chaos, conflict, and uncertainty to California water policy at the worst possible time.

Huffman offered an amendment to ensure that the bill will not interfere with the State of California’s Delta and Water Management Reform and Funding Acts of 2009, including SB7x-1, SB7x-2, SB7x-6, and SB7x-7. His amendment was defeated largely along party lines. Huffman and Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) also offered a motion to recommit in an effort to ensure that this bill did not undermine tribal water protections, which also failed. Huffman voted against the final bill.

The bill was opposed by California Governor Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris, and Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird. Further, the White House has issued a veto threat in its Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 3964.

Huffman repeatedly spoke out on the House floor against the Republican bill.

On its repeals of state law:

“Mr. Speaker, we have heard a lot about a three-inch fish in this debate. And to hear my colleagues in the Republican party tell it, this is a story about a three-inch fish that is taking water away in this drought that should be allocated to people. Well, the truth is, Mr. Speaker, that you’d have to have the brain of a three-inch fish to believe that narrative. There is no such thing happening in this critical drought year. What is happening, however, is that some people are cynically trying to capitalize on the worst drought in California history in order to steal water from some parts of the state and from other water users and give it to a few.

In fact, if this bill were accurately named, it would be called “The Massive Federal Preemption, Overreach and Water Theft Act for the Elections of 2014.”

On the bill as a whole:

“Thank you Mr. Chair. The last time California had a severe multi-year drought, something very different happened. Democrats and Republicans, people from the northern part of the state, the southern part, inland, came together around a historical bipartisan set of water reforms. I was fortunate to help author some of that and to chair the water committee in the state legislature. National newspapers like The New York Times called it the most important thing California had done for water in 60 years.

This bill repeals it. Full stop. Full stop. To offer this as a solution would be laughable if it weren’t such a serious offense to real solutions in California water. The Bay Delta Conservation plan, which my friend referenced, is over if this bill passes because the premise of that plan are coequal goals for the environment and water supply reliability. When you preempt that and repeal it there is no basis for that plan to move forward at all. You better include, in fact, some funding for the federal courts if this bill passes because instead of a solution you’re going to be unleashing a wave of litigation unlike anything the state of California has ever seen. It’s going to hurt the San Joaquin Valley and it’s going to hurt every other part of the state that needs constructive solutions, not a new water war.

We have over 100 years, Mr. Chairman, of deference by the federal government to the state of California and all other western states in administering our water rights system. That was made very clear by Chief Justice Rehnquist in California vs the United States in the 1970s. The principle of state administration in water rights under the public trust doctrine is part of the California constitution, and the California Supreme Court has made it clear that that’s a bedrock of California water law. The California legislature in that historic 2009 package called that the fundamental principle of California water and it is repealed by this vastly overreaching expansion of federal authority that is offered, cynically today, as a solution.

I know some people across the aisle like to talk about the tenth amendment, they like to rail against expansion of federal authority and federal overreach. Well we’re living in a very glass house here today, Mr. Chairman, because this is the most overreaching expansion of federal authority that I could ever imagine on something as basic as water rights in the Western United States.”

On its implications for tribes:

“I thank my colleagues for offering this motion to improve a deeply-flawed bill. California is home to over 100 federally-recognized tribes, including two dozen in my Congressional District. Many tribes, including the Hoopa, the Yurok and the Karuk depend on wild salmon as a vital source of economic opportunity and a respected way of life…”

“Mr. Chair, some of the water impacted by this bill is critically needed by tribes in my district. This bill explicitly waives state and federal law in a way that almost certainly would lead to additional diversions from the Trinity River, which would undermine tribal fishing and water rights. The Yurok Tribe in my district has written about provisions in this bill that would undermine the federal government’s ability to meet its federal trust obligations to protect, preserve, and enhance the trust resources of that tribe. This House has an obligation to clarify that this cynical bill would not diminish any protected tribal water and fishing rights, and so I urge a yes on this motion to recommit and I thank the gentleman.”

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