Editorials

Congress points fingers as it fails California again

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., right, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, leave a news conference last week on Capitol Hill. McCarthy has blamed California’s Democratic senators for the failure of a water bill.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., right, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, leave a news conference last week on Capitol Hill. McCarthy has blamed California’s Democratic senators for the failure of a water bill. The Associated Press

In the midst of the worst drought in memory, California’s congressional delegation has failed once again to compromise on a $1.3 billion water bill that could deliver more water for farms and help the environment.

When it became clear last week that the latest effort on this legislation was kaput, the politicians did what they so often do in the face of failure: point fingers.

Northern California Democrats – sensitive to regional needs and the desires of environmental interests – said they largely had been frozen out of negotiations.

Central Valley Republicans, who have had a front-row view of fallowed farmland, job losses and people in community food lines, pinned the blame on California’s two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

We wouldn’t blame Feinstein if she is feeling as if the adage “No good deed goes unpunished” was coined specifically for her.

First, a staffer of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, presented a water bill package as having been signed off on by Feinstein when she had not approved the language. Later, McCarthy complained that “our senators have once again failed to rise and meet the challenge with us.”

McCarthy’s remarks ignored that Feinstein has invested considerable political capital into this legislative effort and had enlisted the support of Boxer, a passionate advocate for environmental interests.

Politicians need to set aside their tired talking points and approve legislation that could actually benefit their constituents.

There is some good news. Agreement has been reached in several areas, including consideration of new water storage projects and funding for recycling and desalination. Republicans have dropped their misguided efforts to amend the Endangered Species Act.

Still to be hashed out, reported Michael Doyle of McClatchy’s Washington bureau, are “key questions related to increased water pumping to farms.”

Congressional members should set aside partisanship and restart negotiations as soon as possible.

This legislation could benefit a California water system that doesn’t meet the needs of the state’s 39 million residents, drought or no drought. The bill would help fund construction of Sites Reservoir on the west side of the Sacramento Valley and Temperance Flat proposed for the upper San Joaquin River north of Fresno. This money would leverage allocations from the $7.5 billion state water bond, should one or both of the dams be approved.

There also would be funding for improved spawning grounds and passageways for fish. Operational flexibility provisions would be underpinned by real-time monitoring of fish locations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which could provide an opportunity to pump more water to farms without hurting fish species.

El Niño is expected to dump rain and snow on California this winter and spring. But one wet year alone won’t end California’s water crisis. Politicians need to do their part by setting aside their tired talking points and approving legislation that could actually benefit their constituents.

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