Farm Press Blog

Brash SJV congressman shifts California water wars

  • Tulare, Calif., Congressman Devin Nunes crafts comprehensive legislation to give voice back to agriculture. Legislation moves to Senate where California's two senators say they will oppose it — maybe.

A brash, young Central California congressman is proving to be just as adept navigating the halls of Congress as he is at ruffling stoic partisan political feathers.

U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, a 38-year-old from a farm family with three generations of history in Tulare County, Calif., will say just about anything.

“After 20 years under CVPIA (Central Valley Project Improvement Act), Congress can conclude one thing: flushing fresh water into the San Francisco Bay is not helping to recover species and people are suffering needlessly.”

That’s how Republican Nunes introduced H.R 1837, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act. It passed in the House with a bipartisan vote of 246/175.

H.R. 1837 is no hip-pocket, showboat legislation. It is a thorough and thoughtful attempt to turn the boat in the right direction in the ongoing California water crisis. Among other things, it lengthens the 25-year federal water contracts to 40 years; preempts strict state environmental laws and directs more water to farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta without threatening Sacramento Valley water supplies.

It also would throttle back an overly ambitious and dubious attempt to restore salmon to the San Joaquin River. Nunes’ bill will restore the river below Friant Dam using less water for less fragile fish species.

However, what the Republican-controlled House passed has little chance of passing the Democratic Senate. Nunes understands that, but he is not deterred.

“With House passage, we are halfway through the legislative process and now can look to the Senate for its response. Will our senators help restore our property rights and end the death grip of radicals over California’s water supply or will we have to look to others in the Senate to lead the charge?” said Rep. Devin Nunes.

California’s two senators, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, say no way will Nunes’ legislation see the light of day from the Senate.

Feinstein has been quoted as saying the bill is “a very selfish bill. It says the farmers get the water, and everybody else be damned." Some of those same farmers supported Nunes’ bill and also have fattened Feinstein’s campaign bank account.

Feinstein has also been quoted as saying she will look at Nunes’ bill to see if there is any good in it she can support. Look close, senator.

Agriculture takes a bath every time someone messes with California water — until now. Nunes has put food and fiber on equal footing with radical environmentalists.

He has thrown down the gauntlet to fellow politicans who talk about how they are going to help resolve the California water crisis, but don’t produce, like fellow Congressman Jim Costa, a Democrat. He is a farmer and represents a district adjacent to Nunes’. Costa supported the Nunes bill, but whined afterward it did not make any difference because it will not pass in the Senate. If he did not think it would pass, why vote for it? To save his political hide.

Rather than get upset over ruffled partisan pinfeathers, Costa and Feinstein and other Democrats representing rural areas had better figure out a way to glean the good from Nunes’ bill and make sure it becomes law, even with the threat of a presidential veto.

Just scan through the list of supporters of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act. There are many Northern California water districts on it, and they all have registered voter board members.

Nunes’ bill, however, does not have 100 percent agriculture support. Some think reopening the San Joaquin River deal will result in farmers getting a weaker deal.

One observer estimated that there is a 60-40 split among agricultural interests in favor of Nunes’ bill.

Regardless of the Senate outcome of the ambitious legislation, Nunes has craftily given clout back to agriculture. It has been a long time since agriculture has had an unabashed advocate in Congress like Nunes.

Discuss this Blog Entry 7

Salmon Water Now (not verified)
on Mar 7, 2012

You say, "H.R. 1837 is no hip-pocket, showboat legislation. It is a thorough and thoughtful attempt to turn the boat in the right direction in the ongoing California water crisis." To say that t that there is only one "right" direction suggests that anyone with a view other than that of Congressman Nunes is just flat-out wrong. Surely there must be some room for alternative views.

The House vote on HR-1837 was never in doubt, But the thinking behind it, while obviously promoting your point of view, is very flawed to others. Reasonable people can disagree about this legislation. Here is a video that shows some of the debate on the House floor, along with comments about some of the key points made by the proponents.

Voices from the Floor:

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 8, 2012

Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are NO good for California, I am a Democrate but I will never ever support Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. We need young people like Nunes!

Mary Orcutt (not verified)
on Mar 8, 2012

You are entitled to your opinion. Here is mine:
Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein are great for California and I am proud of both of them. They are thoughtful, non-reactionary and look out for the needs of all the people and the land. Our California Agriculture feeds the world and is the basis of our economy, that's for sure. Ag research is deveoping better and better methods of irrigation and plant varieties that can live with our dwindling supplies. We are a diverse state, and we have to work together so everyone can make a living. It's not just agriculture that uses water. Boxer and Feinstein are trying to balance the use of the resource so that we can all get our fair share.

Peter (not verified)
on Mar 9, 2012

Ms. Orcutt,

I respectfully disagree with your overall assessment. You are correct that both people and agriculture need water; however, the issue is not people, it is the non-native Delta Smelt that get the nod over agriculture. People and food before fish. In my opinion, Senators Boxer and Feinstein are not so worried about the people supply as they are in appeasing the environmental extremist faction that have hijacked the state's water.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 12, 2015

They'd better hurry up! Our Central Vallry is sinking into dispair! Crops are dying, farm land and lawns are becoming dust bowls, cattle can't be maintained, etc. They have both (Feinstein & Boxer) have had enough time. What do they propose?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 12, 2015

I don't see much happening for the Central Valley concerning the water shortage. Fienstien and Partner need to GO! It breaks my heart to drive around and see an orchrd on the right blooming, while the one onthe left is dead! At least Nunes is trying to solve the problem! Probably because he grew up here and knows what a paridise it really is.

Sonita (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2012

California is going bankrupt on Senator Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein's watch, the unemployment is the highest it has ever been in Central California, our counties are agriculture based, what is it that these two senators don't understand about this one simple fact: without water all we have left is dirt! Yeah, the developers love to buy up our farms and turn them into concrete jungle but where are the jobs for all the people who live here? Entire towns are disappearing. Californians need to starve before they will learn that "FOOD GROWS WHERE WATER FLOWS!" Importing food from foreign countries will go the way of gasoline prices.

Hon. Devin Nunez we stand with you sir. Continue to fight for what is right and fair for our valley, for all Californians, America-they eat what we produce as well as the rest of the world where our produce is exported!

Jim Costa is a joke, all full of hot air but nothing to show for, what a shame! He could have supported this bill or written one on his own but he has been too busy buttering up to his financiers and giving lip service to the dumb sheep who think he is going to do what he tells them.

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