Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the California Emergency Drought Relief Act.
Feinstein’s remarks as delivered follow:
“Thank you very much Madam Chairman, and Ranking Member Cantwell, and members of both parties.
I'm very pleased to have this opportunity. I make this statement on behalf of my colleague on the left Senator Boxer. We are joined at the hip on this. And I hope after you hear our testimony, you will join us in that.
I’d also like to thank Jeff Kightlinger for testifying today. Jeff is the General Manager and CEO for the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California. This is the largest municipal water provider in the nation.
It’s a water district that supplies drinking water to 26 cities and water districts and it serves nearly 19 million people.
Jeff is a professional. He’s been at this for a long time. And hopefully his words will mean something to this committee.
Let me begin with a general statement. This drought is worse than anything I have seen in my lifetime. And I’m very worried about what it means for the state of California.
Reports say the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which is our major source of water, hasn’t been this low in 500 years. And there is a strong belief that droughts will become chronic and therefore real problems.
Rural and disadvantaged communities are especially hard hit.
We have subsidence of huge areas. The ground is empty for as much as 60 feet. This can become catastrophic in the event of an earthquake.
As of this month, 2,400 wells are dry or soon will be. This puts 12,000 people in jeopardy without water.
Just this month, the Washington Post wrote about a family from Porterville reduced to bathing with donated supplies and living off bottled water.
And this isn’t the only one.
UC Davis reported that California economy will lose an estimated $2.7 billion in 2015, along with 18,600 jobs. That’s on top of the $2.2 billion last year and another 17,000 jobs we lost.
Over the past two years, Senator Boxer’s staff and my staff have spent countless hours working out a drought bill in consultation with farmers and fishermen, cities and rural areas, environmentalists and businesses, up and down the state.
There’s a truism. Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting. And I appreciate Senator Cantwell’s comments, but there is a long history. It is very difficult in California to get a consensus on anything that’s going to be meaningful.
We have a bill that we believe has widespread support. The Nature Conservancy and the California Farm Bureau support the bill. As do 29 water districts and cities. I have put together a packet of those letters of support that I would like to provide this committee, if I may, Madam Chairman.
Senator Boxer’s and my bill has two goals: Short-term emergency relief and long-term investments.
In the short-term, this means being able to move water consistent with environmental laws to help California for the duration of the Governor’s drought declaration of emergency. It does this in a number of ways.
It maximizes water supplies consistent with environmental laws.
The bill requires daily monitoring when fish are near pumps so more water can be pumped when fish are not nearby.
It promotes water transfers between willing sellers and buyers so we can move water to drought-stricken communities that have been the hardest hit.
It allows the Delta Cross-Channel Gates to open to the maximum extent feasible.
And it manages Delta turbidity to maximize water supplies while protecting fish.
We also have long-term solutions. We believe droughts in the West are likely to be chronic and more severe with population growth and climate change.
California voters already provided a roadmap for how to fund these projects when they overwhelmingly approved a $7.5 billion water bond last year. That bond includes $2.7 billion for storage, and another $725 million for recycling and advanced treatment.
Recognizing the limits of the federal budget, this bill reduces the federal role in water supply projects to one of support for state and local projects.
The bill provides authorizations for the following:
$600 million for storage projects to capture water during the wet years to put to good use during the dry years.
Another $50 million in support of research to lower the cost of desalination and reduce its environmental impacts.
The bill also identifies 105 local water recycling projects capable of producing 850,000 acre-feet of water and another 26 desalination projects capable of producing almost 330,000 acre-feet. To get those projects off the ground, the bill authorizes $500 million in grants, loans, and loan guarantees.
And the bill creates a program to shift rural and disadvantaged families from wells to more resilient systems like recycling.
This bill is not going to please everybody. There’s no way to do it. But not to do anything, is to run the risk of really losing the entire economic engine of California.
We can’t function without water. People can’t live without water. And so we’re now in a different climate, in a different set of circumstances and we need to take action.
I want to thank you Madam Chairman for working with us on our emergency bill before and I hope you will see the projects of desalination and recycling as worthy of some federal support.
I want you to know that we are searching for offsets. We understand the financial situation and we very much hope to come up with some.
So thank you very much everybody, for your attention and concern.”