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Brash SJV congressman shifts California water wars

A brash, young Central California congressman is proving to be just as adept navigating the halls of Congress as he is at ruffling stoic partisan political feathers.

U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, a 38-year-old from a farm family with three generations of history in Tulare County, Calif., will say just about anything.

“After 20 years under CVPIA (Central Valley Project Improvement Act), Congress can conclude one thing: flushing fresh water into the San Francisco Bay is not helping to recover species and people are suffering needlessly.”

That’s how Republican Nunes introduced H.R 1837, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act. It passed in the House with a bipartisan vote of 246/175.

H.R. 1837 is no hip-pocket, showboat legislation. It is a thorough and thoughtful attempt to turn the boat in the right direction in the ongoing California water crisis. Among other things, it lengthens the 25-year federal water contracts to 40 years; preempts strict state environmental laws and directs more water to farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta without threatening Sacramento Valley water supplies.

It also would throttle back an overly ambitious and dubious attempt to restore salmon to the San Joaquin River. Nunes’ bill will restore the river below Friant Dam using less water for less fragile fish species.

However, what the Republican-controlled House passed has little chance of passing the Democratic Senate. Nunes understands that, but he is not deterred.

“With House passage, we are halfway through the legislative process and now can look to the Senate for its response. Will our senators help restore our property rights and end the death grip of radicals over California’s water supply or will we have to look to others in the Senate to lead the charge?” said Rep. Devin Nunes.

California’s two senators, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, say no way will Nunes’ legislation see the light of day from the Senate.

Feinstein has been quoted as saying the bill is “a very selfish bill. It says the farmers get the water, and everybody else be damned." Some of those same farmers supported Nunes’ bill and also have fattened Feinstein’s campaign bank account.

Feinstein has also been quoted as saying she will look at Nunes’ bill to see if there is any good in it she can support. Look close, senator.

Agriculture takes a bath every time someone messes with California water — until now. Nunes has put food and fiber on equal footing with radical environmentalists.

He has thrown down the gauntlet to fellow politicans who talk about how they are going to help resolve the California water crisis, but don’t produce, like fellow Congressman Jim Costa, a Democrat. He is a farmer and represents a district adjacent to Nunes’. Costa supported the Nunes bill, but whined afterward it did not make any difference because it will not pass in the Senate. If he did not think it would pass, why vote for it? To save his political hide.

Rather than get upset over ruffled partisan pinfeathers, Costa and Feinstein and other Democrats representing rural areas had better figure out a way to glean the good from Nunes’ bill and make sure it becomes law, even with the threat of a presidential veto.

Just scan through the list of supporters of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act. There are many Northern California water districts on it, and they all have registered voter board members.

Nunes’ bill, however, does not have 100 percent agriculture support. Some think reopening the San Joaquin River deal will result in farmers getting a weaker deal.

One observer estimated that there is a 60-40 split among agricultural interests in favor of Nunes’ bill.

Regardless of the Senate outcome of the ambitious legislation, Nunes has craftily given clout back to agriculture. It has been a long time since agriculture has had an unabashed advocate in Congress like Nunes.