Vote Explanation for H.R. 23 — Gaining Responsibility on Water Act of 2017

I voted against H.R. 23, the Gaining Responsibility on Water Act (GROW) of 2017, which would make various changes to water conservation measures at the Central Valley Project (CVP). This is a joint program between the state of California and the federal government that manages water supplies in the Central Valley Basin, including the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers.

CVP was originally conceived as a California project to protect the Central Valley from crippling water shortages and devastating floods. Acknowledging the massive impacts to wildlife from the Central Valley Project, Congress in 1992 passed the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) to make protection and restoration of habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife a co-equal goal of the Project.

H.R. 23 would roll back key environmental protections recognized under the CVPIA by allowing the Interior Department to modify Central Valley Project operations to fulfill its contractual obligations to provide water for authorized purposes, as long as it could maintain “reasonable flows” that also protect anadromous fish stocks such as salmon. The bill would define reasonable flows in a way that pits economic and social uses against environmental necessity.

Alarmingly, this legislation would affirm that the 800,000 acre-feet per year of water that the CVPIA requires to be redirected for fish and wildlife purposes is a ceiling, not a floor, and that water could be diverted for other uses once conservation requirements have been met. In doing so, this legislation effectively repeals the restoration of California’s second longest river, and preempts state and federal laws that mandate restoration of the San Joaquin River and its native salmon runs.

Without these protections, there is a real chance that salmon and other fish stocks off the California and Oregon coasts will be depleted. The last time this occurred in 2009, Congress had to provide more than $150 million in emergency relief funding to these states in order to help the fishing communities that were negatively impacted.

This bill is bad for the environment, preempts California state law, and does nothing to ensure the equitable distribution of water in the region. For these reasons, I voted against H.R. 23.