Capitol Alert

California water bill sinks for now

Water levels to continue to drop at Beals Point in Folsom Lake, Calif.
Water levels to continue to drop at Beals Point in Folsom Lake, Calif.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Thursday pulled the plug on secret, high-stakes negotiations over a California water bill, saying she and fellow lawmakers will try again next year.

Feinstein’s unexpected move ends, for now, what had become an increasingly contentious rhetorical battle over ambitious legislation that few had seen.

“You’ve got to work with people to get something done,” Feinstein said in a brief interview, adding that “I’m going to put together a first-day bill for the next Congress, and it can go through the regular order.”

This year, Feinstein in the Senate and California Republicans in the House pushed water bills through the respective bodies without the usual public mark-up hearings. The discussions that have been ongoing for the past several months have largely excluded House Democrats.

The closed-door sessions prompted, in recent days, a flurry of negative editorials that Feinstein said Thursday were based on “misimpressions.”

“We’ve come a long way,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, adding that “these type of things happen in negotiations.”

Farm leaders have challenged the way state and federal officials divided up the little water that was available in this intense drought.

Responding to farmer unrest, the GOP-controlled House passed a far-reaching bill in February. Drawing largely on a bill previously introduced by Nunes, it rolled back a landmark 1992 law that directed more water to protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The bill also removed wild-and-scenic protections from a half mile of the Merced River and authorized new water storage projects, among other provisions.

On Thursday, Nunes said that “we’ll continue to try to work together” when the next Congress convenes in January.