Duarte, House panel dig in on Calif.’s woeful water policies

The Central Valley’s dire water situation took center stage in the nation’s capital on Wednesday. 

The Central Valley’s dire water situation took center stage in the nation’s capital on Wednesday. 

The Water, Wildlife and Fisheries Subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing on the necessity for multiple use of water resources, bringing California’s water storage system into the national spotlight. 


The backstory: Recent years have brought sweeping changes for the Central Valley’s water supply. The Central Valley Project is subject to biological opinions (often referred to as BiOps), the most recent of which were issued in 2019 under President Donald Trump’s administration, which proponents say allowed for greater flexibility to pump more water south to Valley farms and southern California communities.

  • But President Joe Biden’s administration has started the process to remove the Trump-era BiOps and revert back to the previous opinions issued in 2008 and 2009, focusing on the environmental impacts to the region’s endangered fish species.
  • Even with the severe storms to start the year, California’s water crisis continues to loom. With its best delivery in years, the Bureau of Reclamation announced in February that Central Valley Project contractors South-of-Delta will only receive 35 percent of their contracted amount this year. 

State of play: Family Farm Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen was one of four witnesses to testify Wednesday, much of which was focused on California’s water storage. 

  • “After several critically dry years requiring severe cutbacks, many people are asking the obvious question: ‘Does this mean the California drought is over?’ The answer of course is no,” Keppen said. “California’s water management system was designed specifically to manage this volatile hydrology to store wet year water to be used in dry years, but currently even our amazing system of dams and canals can’t meet the state’s water demands.” 
  • “Each year this problem is getting worse,” Keppen said. “Unelected government officials are allowed to divert more and more water away from homes, communities, wildlife refuges and farms. We have yet to see them demonstrate accountable results showing the promised benefit to endangered fish.” 

What they’re saying: Rep. John Duarte (R–Modesto) spoke to the challenges Central Valley farmers and communities have faced with the water shortages over the years. 

  • “We’ve sacrificed a lot for the Delta Smelt and the salmon through single-species management schemes that I hope have delivered tremendous results for all the species, the salmon and smelt – maybe not humans so much,” Duarte said. 
  • Local advocates, such as California Water Alliance and Valley Future Foundation chairman William Bourdeau, echoed the sentiments laid out by Keppen and Duarte.
  • “Without sound science and adaptive management in the Delta, we can have atmospheric rivers or severe droughts, and the underlying handling of water stays relatively the same,” Bourdeau told The Sun. “I’m grateful Congressman Duarte and the Family Farm Alliance are continuing to press for common sense solutions.”
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