California’s water woes: GOP hopes slate of new bills will finally solve crisis

In this Aug. 22, 2021, photo, a kayaker fishes in Lake Oroville as water levels remain low due to continuing drought conditions in Oroville, California. (G3 Box News Photo/Ethan Swope, File)

California’s water woes: GOP hopes slate of new bills will finally solve crisis

Tori Richards

January 22, 04:00 AM January 22, 04:43 AM

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Republican lawmakers are blaming Congress and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) for California’s water infrastructure mess that floods during rainstorms and sucks farmers dry during the rest of the drought-infused years.

Recent rainstorms that have destroyed coastal towns, killed 22 people, and caused the collapse of interstate highways could have been mitigated if dozens of state and federal bills over the past decade had passed to build reservoirs, levees, and improve the state’s complex pumping system, officials told the Washington Examiner.

Even a 2014 voter-approved reservoir with $2.7 billion in dedicated funding doesn’t have a prayer of being built any time soon because of excessive red tape. However, Newsom said recently that he is pushing for more water storage.

“If history is any indicator, nothing will happen, but I hope I am wrong,” said California Republican Assembly Leader James Gallagher.

He noted the irony in Newsom’s numerous emergency declarations for COVID-19, shuttering the state for more than a year.

“If there is a will, there is a way. If the governor and others would push on [water improvements], they could probably get this accomplished,” he said. “We are talking about someone who declares emergencies all the time and could push the needle if he wanted.”

On Jan. 19, Newsom wrote on his website that he was aggressively pushing for better water infrastructure. Farmers, meanwhile, have seen their crop sizes shrivel each year thanks to the decadelong drought. They watch as 1.2 billion gallons of water per day are flushed into a Northern California delta that leads to the Pacific Ocean — all to regulate water temperature for a trout population living there.

“California isn’t waiting to act — we’re moving aggressively to modernize how we capture and store water to future-proof our state against more extreme cycles of wet and dry,” California’s governor said. “We’re expediting projects across the state to maximize storm water capture and storage above and below ground during times like these, reshaping our water systems for the 21st century and beyond.”


Republicans say they are undaunted by their failure to pass water bills and have continued to press ahead with a slate of legislation that just may pass, given the state’s recent disasters.

One bill has been introduced in Congress and three have been introduced on the state level that take care of a myriad of problems: cutting red tape, increasing water flow to the neediest areas, building dams, levees, and reservoirs, and upgrading old systems.

“If they had an eye toward this mess, we wouldn’t be in this rut,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA). “They pissed away so much water in two years. They didn’t have a mind for conserving because the environment trumps everything. It’s dubious that all this environmental water helps the fish.”

Last week, LaMalfa and other California Republicans introduced the Water for California Act in the House to reaffirm the allocation of water to the state’s Central Valley farm belt, among other places.

Water for farms comes mostly from the trout-loving delta, with state and federal regulators deciding how much to deliver. This year, their allocation was zero, farmers told the Washington Examiner.

California’s two biggest dams, Shasta and Oroville, have been at half their capacity, but even the recent storms have not filled them because there is no infrastructure. Water in Oroville, the nation’s tallest dam, dropped so low in 2021 that a picture taken from space shows the dry earth from the lake’s bottom.

LaMalfa is hopeful that the measure will finally pass after the recent disasters. One Democratic supporter of water issues has always been Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but LaMalfa said he isn’t sure of her attendance.

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Stateside, Gallagher and others will keep pushing the three Republican water bills. One of them speeds up the regulatory permits that occur when sports stadiums are built. SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, home to the NFL’s Chargers and Rams, was built in just four years.

“It’s held up in the bureaucratic morass,” Gallagher said of Proposition 1, the 2014 reservoir bond measure. “If a governor weighs in with these agencies, it tends to get done. This has dragged on for years.”

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