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New Senate bill counters House drought relief bill approach

Late last month, we wrote about how California’s significant drought conditions prompted Governor Jerry Brown to pass an emergency declaration. This declaration granted regulators greater control over water releases in certain geographical locations in order to better conserve water for the months ahead. But the drought is so severe that state lawmakers alone cannot address the problem adequately.

As a result, the U.S. House recently approved a drought relief bill. However, the drought relief bill recently introduced in the Senate by Democratic senators from Oregon and California is constructed very differently from the House drought relief bill. The primary difference between the two bills is that one unravels certain environmental law restrictions, while the other focuses on delivery emergency aid and compelling federal agencies to help affected areas.

The Senate’s approach focuses on federal agency action and on delivering roughly $300 million in emergency funds to affected areas. The House bill loosens environmental law restrictions in order to allow significantly more water from the Delta to be diverted south to farms in the San Joaquin Valley. Critics of the House bill insist that it grabs at water supplies in ways that will negatively impact the environment.

Many environmental and agricultural groups have praised the Senate’s approach as an initial step in the right direction. However, the Senate’s approach will only be upheld if it is both passed in the chamber and then agreed upon when the Senate and House are compelled to meet and merge their bills into one. This will be a difficult process given that the two approaches are so different from one another.

Source: Mercury News, “Senate drought bill offers $300 million, no waiving of environmental laws,” Josh Richman, Feb. 12, 2014

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