Agriculture

Costa, Cox in pickle as House panel wants to probe Valley water boost

Prepping a probe to see if U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt influenced a plan to deliver far more water to the San Joaquin Valley, House Democrats have placed Reps. Jim Costa (D–Fresno) and TJ Cox (D–Fresno) in a pickle.

House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva (D–Ariz.) is pushing to have his committee grant him wide-ranging subpoena authority to probe the Interior Department.

Among the investigations Grijalva wants to delve into is whether Bernhardt, who once represented Fresno-based Westlands Water District, unduly influenced the release of biological opinions governing the operation of the Central Valley Project.

The opinions, which replaced ones issued ten years ago, gives the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Fish and Wildlife the ability to engage in real-time monitoring of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to determine if water can be pumped south into the San Joaquin Valley.

Previously, water pumping was determined by a rigid, calendar-based schedule.

Grijalva’s push, backed by subcommittee chairman Rep. Jared Huffman (D–San Rafael) wades deeply into California’s long-standing water wars and threatens to force Costa and Cox to either vote against granting subpoena power or allow Grijalva and other members of the panel to work toward nullifying a plan that sends more water to farms and communities in their districts.

Huffman, it should be noted, was a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a top-tier environmental lobby group that led a bevy of lawsuits seeking to restrict water deliveries south of the Delta.

A report Monday from Capitol Hill paper Roll Call said that Rep. Jim Costa was uneasy about giving House Natural Resources Committee chairman Raul Grijalva extensive and wide-ranging subpoena powers into the Interior Department.

“I think on a case-by-case basis I obviously want to support the chair,” Costa told Roll Call while walking through the Capitol complex.

Cox, meanwhile, has remained mum on the subject of Grijalva’s investigations into the Interior Department, especially in relation to the new Biological Opinions for the Central Valley Project.

The Freshman Democrat did tour the San Joaquin Valley with Grijalva in late May, visiting – among other portions of Cox’s district – the Westlands Water District service area on the westside of Fresno County.

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.