A revised water pact between California and the U.S. government was approved Wednesday in a House committee, but both administrations oppose the bill, leaving its fate uncertain.
The Resources Committee approval came after state lawmakers failed to approve a similar bill to reauthorize the program called CalFed, which aims to provide water more reliably for cities, farmers and wildlife.
CalFed, a consortium of state and federal scientists, environmentalists, water experts and irrigation district executives, seeks to balance the needs of growers while keeping enough water in the Delta east of San Francisco to protect the environment.
The bill from Rep. John Doolittle, R-Rocklin, would give $60 million to the project and change aspects of the program that Gov. Gray Davis and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt negotiated this year.
Although the money represents a small portion of the estimated $8 billion program projected during the next seven years, the program is set to expire at the end of September without such legislation.
The Davis-Babbitt blueprint would raise the water level in key dams, restoring the delta and its tributaries, boosting water recycling and fixing the delta levee system.
While building new dams remains controversial, Doolittle argued that farmers have suffered in the agreement for lack of additional water storage.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was able to provide only about two-thirds of the water contracted for this year.
“If we can’t make water deliveries to contracted users in wet years, I can’t imagine what would happen in normal years or in a drought,” Doolittle said. “We’re continuing to see a declining problem with water supply, water quality and system reliability.”
Davis and Babbitt each oppose the bill and Babbitt said he would ask President Clinton to veto it if approved.
Environmentalists criticized the bill for opening the door to new dams and potentially hurting endangered species.
“It’s a terrible bill,” said Barry Nelson, a senior analyst for the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council.
Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, blasted the bill for rewriting the program behind closed doors after five years of planning by state and federal officials.
“If the authors of this legislation want to blow up the CalFed process, return California to the water wars of the last century and jeopardize the economic and water security future for 34 million Californians, this bill is a perfect way to achieve those goals,” Miller said.
If Doolittle’s bill founders, lawmakers and industry officials expect Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-San Francisco, to push for funding and a temporary extension of the program until it is fully debated next year. Miller tried a similar route in committee, but was rejected.
The bill is H.R. 5130.
On the Net: The House Resources Committee is at http:resourcescommittee.house.gov
The CalFed site is http://calfed.ca.gov