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Bill Threatens Salmon Runs for Wealthiest Agribusinesses

Center for Biological Diversity

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote this week on an attempted water grab by powerful corporate agribusinesses in California's San Joaquin Valley that threatens to drive salmon runs extinct and reverse decades of laws that protect people, wildlife and water supplies. Among other things, H.R. 1837 would take away 260 billion gallons of water used for saving salmon and other conservation purposes each year and deliver it to water contractors in the Central Valley. It would also eliminate environmental protections for salmon and other endangered species in the San Francisco Bay-Delta and the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. The bill goes before the House rules committee on Feb. 28. A vote in the House is expected on Feb. 29.

“This bill is about pure greed and boosting corporate profits for some of the world's wealthiest agribusinesses. In exchange, we’d be sacrificing Central Valley salmon runs and overturning laws that protect water, the environment and ultimately California’s people,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These water tycoons finally have their dream bill—to get rid of environmental protections and flush the last decade of salmon restoration efforts and water allocation down the drain.”

The legislation would nullify existing water rights to guarantee water for politically connected corporations; end restoration of the San Joaquin River and prevent revival of its salmon runs; overturn broadly supported water-use agreements; and threaten California's public water supplies—all to benefit wealthy corporations. It would also likely result in the extinction of economically valuable Central Valley salmon runs.

In a direct threat to state sovereignty, the legislation also proposes to end most of California’s authority over the State Water Project and the California Aqueduct, water supply projects funded with bonds approved by California voters and built, managed and regulated by state agencies.

“This bill turns water policies upside down, reversing decades of work by state and federal agencies to restore salmon and other imperiled fish in California,” said Snape.

H.R. 1837 is opposed by California's senators, leaders of both state legislative houses, commercial and recreational fishing associations, environmental groups, water districts, local governments and Delta farmers. By preempting and overriding state and federal environmental laws, the bill jeopardizes efforts to restore the Bay-Delta estuary and improve the reliability California's water supplies.

Background
H.R. 1837 would:

  • Gut the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, requiring 800,000 acre-feet of water per year currently directed to conservation to be delivered instead to Central Valley water contractors (pp. 18 and 20);
  • Eliminate protections for salmon in the San Francisco Bay-Delta and the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers while guaranteeing massive water exports from the Delta to politically connected special interests;
  • Direct any difference in income from selling agricultural water to municipalities to be kept in a “restoration fund” controlled by the contractors, and, for the first time, enable the use of federal funds to construct privately controlled storage facilities;
  • Invalidate the San Joaquin restoration agreement, a bipartisan, court-approved settlement to restore the San Joaquin that ended 18 years of litigation after the San Joaquin River Restoration Act was approved by Congress in 2009 (p. 25);
  • Mandate that the Endangered Species Act be considered "fully met" by the project and require new federal permits that can be no more restrictive on water pumping than a 1994 Bay-Delta standard, ignoring 20 years of federal attempts to secure enough water flow to prevent salmon from going extinct (p. 21);
  • Prohibit the Fish and Wildlife Service from distinguishing between naturally spawned and artificially stocked salmon and steelhead for the purposes of Endangered Species Act compliance (pp. 31-32);
  • Require the Department of the Interior to approve new water projects and permits within a 45-day window and prohibit the secretary of the Interior from imposing any mitigation for projects harming endangered species, while giving water contracting agencies approval authority (pp. 4-5);
  • Preempt the state’s ability to regulate and control the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project for Endangered Species Act conditions, preempting application of the public trust doctrine for state law as well (p. 22);
  • Allow privately controlled “joint power authorities,” including those involved in water grabs and privatizing public water (such as the Kern Water Bank) to obtain federal funds to build or expand storage projects—a giveaway of taxpayer money to billionaires such as Stewart Resnick and his Kern Water Bank (p. 24);
  • Rob the Fish and Wildlife Service of restoration funding from money accruing from differences in profit and costs for water transfers between agricultural and municipal users and give it to water contractors (pp. 6, 15 and 31);
  • Require the Fish and Wildlife Service to provide water contractors with additional 100 percent replacement of “restoration flows” used for fish and wildlife conservation in the San Joaquin river within a year of enactment and prohibit use of any water not from the San Joaquin for that purpose (pp. 28 and 29);
  • Preempt state authority to regulate water quality in the San Joaquin River beyond the flows and mitigation specified in the new bill (p. 24).

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