House to Vote (Again) on Bill to Destroy California’s Rivers

Later this week the House of Representatives will be voting yet again on legislation to permanently destroy California’s rivers, Bay-Delta estuary, and native fisheries, and the thousands of jobs that depend on them.  

H.R. 23 (Rep. Valadao, R-CA) would radically preempt California law, preventing the State from managing its rivers, fisheries, and water diversions. This bill would preempt California law as applied to the federal Central Valley Project, overturning more than a century of deference to state law under the Reclamation Act of 1902. But the preemption of state law in H.R. 23 doesn’t stop there—the bill would also prevent the State of California from managing California’s own State Water Project consistent with the requirements of state law, and would prevent the State from managing water rights and diversions in the Sacramento River, San Joaquin River, and throughout the Bay-Delta watershed to protect salmon or other native fish species. And this section (Section 108) of H.R. 23 would also prohibit implementation of the Endangered Species Act, preventing the agencies from ensuring that operations of these massive water projects do not drive salmon or other native fish species extinct. 

And that’s just one section of this massive anti-environmental bill. Other sections would:

  • Effectively stop the restoration of the San Joaquin River and its native salmon runs as required by state law, federal law, and a binding court settlement. Instead, the bill would permanently dry up sixty miles of California’s second longest river, diverting every drop of the river for agriculture, in violation of state law. (Section 113)
  • Eviscerate key provisions of the 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act, including:

o  Requirements to provide instream flows to help protect salmon and to provide funding for habitat restoration and wildlife refuges, which were intended to help mitigate some of the environmental harm caused by the Central Valley Project. (Sections 105, 106, and 107)

o  Limitations on water supply contracts intended to prevent massive taxpayer subsidies, minimum water conservation standards, and limits on water transfers. (Sections 103 and 104)

  • Authorize construction of new dams in California, including raising Shasta Dam (which would violate state law), and waive the public’s right to provide input on new dams and other infrastructure projects like the Delta tunnels under the National Environmental Policy Act. (Sections 107 and 110)
  • Overturn recent court decisions protecting the Trinity River and its native salmon runs (Title 4)
  • Limit public and agency review and comment on new dams and infrastructure across the Western United States, in a manner that weakens environmental protections for new infrastructure. (Titles 5 and 6)
  • Limit the ability of the United States to condition water diversions to protect healthy rivers, economically important fisheries, and public lands, in order to protect state water rights. (Title 7) 

If this sounds familiar, that’s because H.R. 23 is very similar to legislation that Rep. Valadao and his radical colleagues have pushed in the House since 2011, including H.R. 1837 of 2011-2012, H.R. 3964 of 2014, H.R. 5781 of 2014, and H.R. 2898 of 2015. Those bills were repeatedly opposed by the State of California, Attorney General (now Senator) Kamala Harris, Senator Feinstein, the majority of California’s delegation in the House of Representatives, local governments, commercial fishermen, and conservation groups. Newspaper editorials across the State have opposed these radical bills. 

Readers may also recall that Congress passed a legislative rider addressing California’s water operations at the very end of 2016, as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016 (P. L. 114-322). H.R. 23 would undermine that legislation, which supporters claim requires that state and federal water projects are operated in compliance with state law and the Endangered Species Act.  

It is the height of hypocrisy that this legislation claims to protect state water rights from federal interference, yet would preempt California from conditioning state water rights under state law. Yet more important than the dangerous precedent it sets for other states or the broader principles of federalism at risk, H.R. 23 threatens thousands of fishing jobs, would permanently dry up California’s second longest river, and would destroy the Bay-Delta estuary and drive native species extinct. 

Below are links to several fact sheets, press releases, and other materials opposing H.R. 23:

Press Statements and Letters from Elected Officials Opposing H.R. 23:

Letters Opposing H.R. 23:

Fact Sheets:

(This page will be updated later this week with additional resources.)

About the Authors

Doug Obegi

Director, California River Restoration, Water Division, Nature Program

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