Fixing Calif. water woes starts with first-hand look at Valley’s devastation

House Natural Resources Committee chair Rep. Bruce Westerman (R–AR) and Rep. David Valadao preview the upcoming work for a Valley-based field hearing on drought and flooding.

Authored with House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Bruce Westerman

After a years-long drought, much of California is now under water. The state has been hit by a series of atmospheric rivers that have devastated Central Valley communities with flooding and caused widespread damage to farms, businesses, homes, and critical infrastructure. This flooding has brought renewed attention to California’s water problems.


While this desperately needed rainwater has helped to replenish reservoirs and depleted groundwater, we’ve wasted a seemingly immeasurable amount of water that we could have used for when we’re in another inevitable period of drought.  Eventually, this rain will stop. California’s Department of Water Resources calls drought a “recurring feature of our climate” here in the state – something lifelong residents know all too well.

Water is the lifeblood of Central Valley agricultural production. With less than one percent of our nation’s farmland, we produce a quarter of America’s food. Making sure our agriculture producers have access to a safe, clean, and reliable water supply is critical to not only our local economy, but also our entire nation’s food security.

On Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will be holding field tours and a legislative hearing in the Central Valley on the long-term issues that plague our water infrastructure and proactive steps the federal and state governments can take to correct them. We’ve invited witnesses ranging from federal officials to local farmers to testify, since we know this must be a collaborative effort in order to have any hope of success.

Many of our committee members represent western states, and know firsthand the challenges that come from water supply issues. These field tours and hearing will be a helpful starting point as we hear from men and women on the ground. We depend on these conversations to shape commonsense policies in Washington, DC.

One of these policies is the Working to Advance Tangible and Effective Reforms (WATER) for California Act, which the committee will be discussing  during this field hearing. 

The WATER for California Act focuses on operational stability, infrastructure, and accountability to better manage the water we do have and prepare our communities for dry years. It would increase much needed water storage infrastructure by reauthorizing the successful surface water storage project program established by the WIIN Act, which expired in 2021.

The bill also provides eligibility for funding for the Shasta Enlargement Project, the most per acre/foot cost-effective water storage project in California. While President Biden continues to tout the infrastructure bill signed into law last year, this bill explicitly excluded any of the $1.15B allocated for water storage projects from going to the Shasta Project.

In addition to making it easier to build much needed water storage, the WATER for California Act Requires the Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) be operated consistent with the 2019 Biological Opinions (BiOps), which were independently peer-reviewed and informed by the most accurate, best available science.

The BiOps essentially act as a guidebook for how the CVP and SWP are operated – including when and how long they can turn on the pumps. The Biden administration is attempting to reverse the 2019 BiOps, which has caused significant uncertainty for Valley farmers about their water supply. This bill provides operational stability and transparency by requiring that any new review of the BiOps be justified in a report to Congress.

For too long, complex and contradictory laws and regulations that control how much we’re able to pump, and what storage projects we’re able to move forward, have amplified California’s water problems. If we don’t address the laws that govern our water, our ability to feed the nation will be in trouble. 

Chairman Bruce Westerman is the representative for Arkansas’ 4th District and is the Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

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