House vote today on San Joaquin Valley water bill sets bad precedent

February 29, 2012

Contacts: 
Jennifer Witherspoon, (415) 293-6067, jwitherspoon@edf.org 
Sean Crowley, (202) 550-6524-c, scrowley@edf.org

 (Washington, DC – Feb. 29, 2012) The House of Representatives’ scheduled vote today on California Congressman Devin Nunes’ “San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act” (H.R. 1837) would set a bad legal precedent of Congress preempting state water laws, according to Environmental Defense Fund. The White House issued a statement yesterday warning that if the Congress passed H.R. 1837, “the President's senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”  

“It is long standing federal policy to defer to states on water rights,” said David Festa, EDF’s vice president of West Coast operations and Land, Water, Wildlife program, who is a former Director of Policy and Strategic Planning for the U.S. Department of Commerce.  “Making an exception in this case wouldn’t help forge a long term solution, but it would create a bad precedent for all Western states.  

“The best decisions are made locally,” said Cynthia Koehler, an attorney who is EDF’s California water legislative director. “The Administration is right when it says that a congressional end run would ultimately create more delays and lawsuits as parties sift through the many decisions that would have to be made in order to implement the proposed law. This bill threatens the quality of the water pumped out of the Bay Delta estuary, thousands of West Coast jobs, and our economy.”  

The flaws in H.R. 1837 include that it: 

  1. Preempts state law and interferes with state water rights;
  2. Overturns the court approved settlement, reached through negotiations among the parties, to restore the San Joaquin River; and
  3. Undermines environmental protections for the Bay Delta estuary, salmon and other wildlife. 

“This bill threatens senior water rights holders throughout the state,” added Koehler.  “It also would disrupt collaborative, comprehensive programs, like the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, designed to protect endangered species, restore the delta ecosystem, and improve the reliability of California’s water supply for farms and cities.”  

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