Western-Styled Showdown on Water
Senator Murkowski (R-AK), Chair of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, announced an October hearing to grapple with the various water bills that have passed the house and Senate this year. On one side of the shoot-out will be champions of Rep. Valadao’s (R-CA) “Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act” (HR 3964), which passed the House. HR 3964 would rewrite water rights throughout the state to favor his south-central valley constituents and reduce the ability of N. CA to have adequate water for fish, ecosystems and communities.
Leading the other side is Senators Boxer (D-CA) and Feinstein (D-CA). They introduced the “California Emergency Drought Relief Act” in July and at a hearing before the August recess. That bill is aimed at retaining much of current water rights while looking for new solutions in order to solve current and long-term drought concerns, and includes some provisions written by Congressman Huffman. The Boxer/Feinstein bill does, however, include some very troubling provisions.
The issue has clearly shifted from “water” to “drought.” Some legislators want the October before-winter rains to dampen the urgency fueling Valadao’s bill. The battle is drawing an out-of-state crowd, however. Senator Flake (R-AZ) announced, “We (Arizona) will want to make sure that California doesn’t take our water like they always try to do.” Feinstein has indicated she is willing to include other western states’ issues in her bill. Conservationists will need to be ready for this showdown and pick their poison. Any Senate bill that passes will have to be written to integrate Valadao’s bill.
Ring of Fire
Unprecedented summer fires have also created an opportunity for those who favor much more aggressive logging to stake the stage. Congressman Huffman and his staff were in the district this summer to witness the very real human and ecological tolls the fires have taken in Northern CA. Some conservation-minded legislators clearly show the US Forest Service and other federal agencies currently have the authority they need to implement modern fire prevention tools—such as controlled burns, “management fires” (where natural fires are allowed to slowly burn and smolder when weather conditions are not volatile) and working with communities to create buffers to towns and roads. In fact, some federal agencies have been using these tools for decades.
Congressman Westerman (R-AR) however used the emotional effects of recent wildfires as a means to rewrite forest management policy by getting his bill, HR 2647 ‘‘Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015’’ passed in the House this summer. Dozens of conservation organizations, including the NEC, wrote to oppose this bill.
The bill demands more aggressive clear-cuts, salvage logging on steep slopes and in endangered species habitat. Conservationists fear the energy behind the fire legislation could be added to forest management bills in a Senate/House version that would inhibit important environmental laws that protect endangered species such as spotted owls, fisheries, forests and watersheds.
This will be a busy autumn and, as has increasingly been the case, threats of government shutdown in October can shift the focus and attention in unpredicted directions.
113 Ways to Lose Endgangered Species
There are currently 113 riders on bills to fund federal agencies that could negatively affect endangered species through the U.S. For those who follow conservation policy and politics, this could be the Prize Fight of land use legislation. So get out the hankies or popcorn (or put on the boxing gloves) and contact your