Oppose the "State Water Rights Repeal Act" (H.R. 1837)

This week, the House is scheduled to vote on “State Water Rights Repeal Act” (H.R. 1837).  This bill would devastate California’s rivers, the Bay-Delta estuary, our fisheries and wildlife, and the jobs and communities that depend on their health. The legislation is opposed by the State of California, California’s two Senators, more than 10 members of the state’s House delegation, the leaders of both state legislative houses, and literally hundreds of commercial and recreational fishing associations, environmental groups, water districts, local governments, and farmers.  See here for more information about those who oppose this bill.

Here’s a quick rundown on some of this radical bill’s most harmful provisions. 

  • Preempts California Water Laws Protecting Rivers and the Bay-Delta Estuary – H.R. 1837 would preempt state environmental laws, prohibiting the State of California from protecting its rivers, the Bay-Delta estuary, and their wildlife and fisheries.  It would also prohibit implementation of the bipartisan package of water policy reform legislation adopted by the State of California in 2009, which mandated the development of a comprehensive Delta Plan and established co-equal goals of improving water supply reliability and restoring the Bay-Delta estuary.  And it overturns more than a century of federal Reclamation law by exempting the federal Central Valley Project from compliance with state law, a worrying precedent for other Western states.  
  • Blocks the Court-Approved 2009 Settlement to Restore the San Joaquin River – H.R. 1837 would repeal a carefully-negotiated, bi-partisan, consensus settlement, despite the objections of all parties to the settlement: fishermen, farmers, conservation groups, and the federal government.  The settlement was supported by the Bush Administration and Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, including then-Representative Pombo and Senator Feinstein. Repealing this settlement would leave 40 miles of the San Joaquin River completely dry in most years, and other areas with very little water, preventing the restoration of a living river and the San Joaquin River’s historic salmon runs.   
  • Threatens Thousands of Fishing Jobs – In 2008 and 2009, California’s salmon fisheries were closed for the first time in the state’s history, resulting in thousands of lost jobs in California and Oregon, and hundreds of millions of dollars in lost income each year. H.R. 1837 would lead to the further decline of California’s salmon and the people that depend on them to make a living. 
  • Guts Environmental Review for Water Projects in the Central Valley – H.R. 1837 would gut the National Environmental Policy Act by exempting new dams, canals, pipelines, contracts, and other water projects from federal environmental reviews in certain situations, no matter how environmentally destructive these projects might be. 
  • Harms Endangered Species – H.R. 1837 would eliminate science-based protections for salmon and other endangered species that are required under both California law and the Endangered Species Act, instead substituting measures crafted as part of a short-term deal reached in 1994--in a vastly different ecological and scientific environment. The State of California has been on record since 2009, under both Republican and Democratic Administrations, opposing riders and legislation to weaken, suspend, or overturn the Endangered Species Act in the Bay-Delta.

The bottom line is: H.R. 1837 will likely lead to more extinct species, more out of work fishermen, 40 miles of the San Joaquin River dried up, and more struggling small farmers. And it will make it more difficult - if not impossible - to develop real solutions to improve the reliability of California’s water supplies and to restore the Bay-Delta estuary.  California deserves a water policy that benefits all Californians, not just agribusinesses.

About the Authors

Doug Obegi

Senior Attorney, Water program

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