Editorial: Dianne Feinstein’s water bill is an overreach

Published: Thursday, Apr. 17, 2014 - 12:00 am

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s drought bill, introduced in February, was an improvement over the water grab bill that passed in the House.

A big plus in her original bill was $300 million for conservation and efficiency measures, aid to low-income farmworkers harmed by the drought, technological tools to help farmers get through this dry year and emergency projects to address drinking-water quality problems.

That $300 million, however, has been stripped out in order to get Republican support for Feinstein’s bill.

What remains in the revised version are two troubling provisions that The Bee’s editorial board urged her to amend in February.

The effect of these two provisions would be to allow more water flow south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to benefit the Westlands Water District in Fresno and Kings counties and Paramount Farms in the southern San Joaquin Valley, owned by billionaires Lynda and Stewart Resnick of Los Angeles.

From 2011 to 2013, Westlands spent $600,000 on lobbying in Washington, D.C., and the Resnicks donated nearly $321,000 to federal candidates, political action and party committees, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics and Southern California Public Radio reported last week.

The two provisions would lead to federal micromanagement of pump operations in the Delta, rather than letting experts in the water and fish agencies make real-time decisions balancing all state interests.

Laws already allow for flexibility in dry years. Agencies have drastically reduced flows through the Delta and into San Francisco Bay to increase water exports south of the Delta. The latest increased water diversion was announced by state and federal officials on April 1.

Feinstein could fix the flawed provisions easily enough.

One provision would lock in a specific inflow-export ratio to allow more water transfers to contractors south of the Delta from April 1 through May 31, regardless of water availability. This, of course, is the time that salmon and steelhead are migrating to the ocean. Feinstein should fix this provision by allowing agency experts to change the ratio depending on real-time water availability.

The other provision talks about complying with endangered species law for some fish, but not for salmon and steelhead, which are on their way to extinction. Feinstein has said her goal is to protect fisheries. She should make that clear in the legislation. People whose livelihoods depend on salmon fisheries have been hurt by drought as much as Westside growers.

In the past, Feinstein has said it is important to avoid seeking “gains for certain water users at the expense of others” or abandoning “fundamental state and federal environmental laws.” To make actions match words, she should fix the two provisions.

Otherwise, it just looks like she’s going to bat for Westlands and the Resnicks, which doesn’t bode well for the larger Bay-Delta process seeking to balance statewide water supply reliability with protection of a healthy Delta ecosystem.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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