House Bill Attempts to Kill the San Joaquin River - Again

The House Continuing Resolution (CR) released on February 11 contains dangerous and misguided provisions that gut protections for the environment, undermine public health programs and hurt the economy. A perfect example of the wrong-headed thinking in this legislation is the provision authored by Fresno Republican, Congressman Devin Nunes. His idea for helping America in these tough times is to undermine a landmark agreement between farmers, environmentalists, fishermen and the federal government to restore California’s second largest river, the San Joaquin. This provision to defund restoration and dry up the river would have broad negative impacts on the people of California.

  1. Threatening agricultural water supplies.  Defunding the Restoration Program would eliminate water supply programs and projects designed to benefit farmers in the region.  
  2. Wasting money.  The funding for the restoration program is largely derived from fees paid by water users and existing California State bond funds specifically tied to San Joaquin River restoration.  Defunding restoration would not only fail to create savings, it would waste millions of dollars that are already available - funds that would create water supply projects, channel improvements – and jobs. 
  3. Harming water quality for two thirds of Californians.  Flows from the San Joaquin River will improve water quality in the Delta, a source of drinking water for over 23 million people and farms.  Improved flows on the San Joaquin will also help restore the damaged Bay-Delta estuary, improving the reliability of water supplies for the water users who depend on the Delta.   
  4. Causing unnecessary conflict.  The CR language would destabilize the San Joaquin River restoration agreement that was negotiated by the federal government, farmers and environmental groups to end 18 years of litigation. This agreement was supported by all of the major interests in the Central Valley, including farmers and irrigations districts.  It was also supported by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.   . 
  5. Undermining successful bipartisan efforts. The restoration agreement was supported by the Bush administration and California’s Republican governor. The federal authorizing legislation was initially co-sponsored in the House by Congressman Pombo and Senator Feinstein in the Senate.

After eighteen years of litigation, the parties decided that finding agreement was more productive than continued conflict. In the four years since the agreement was reached, flows have brought the river back to life, thousands of acre-feet of water have been recirculated back to farmers, and soon salmon will be reintroduced to the river to help revive California’s commercial salmon fishing industry. San Joaquin River restoration is a successful example of the bipartisan cooperation we need more of, not the kind that should be defunded.