By Dianne Feinstein
Originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle
The May 21 Chronicle editorial "Sen. Feinstein's wrong response to the drought" suggests a water policy is successful "if it protects widely shared public values." That is true. But I would argue that a key part of "shared public values" is actually getting water where it needs to go. Balancing environmental principles with practical water solutions is the goal of my bill, the Emergency Drought Relief Act.
Unfortunately, the Chronicle editorial board repeatedly mischaracterizes this legislation. First and foremost, the bill specifically states that all existing laws and regulations must be followed, including biological opinions, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and other laws. In fact, when environmental groups came to my staff and said the bill did not cover court-approved biological opinions of both smelt and salmon, we promptly revised the bill text.
Environmental groups were also concerned that water for wildlife refuges would be of poor quality. Again, I accepted their suggested revision and clarified that if a refuge frees up surface water for water contractors, the substitute water received by the refuge must comply with all water quality standards.
Any suggestion that the bill changes, overrides or trumps any law is false. I do not support waiving the Endangered Species Act or the Clean Water Act. The House would support such waivers, and I have made clear I will not. Our bill simply provides operational flexibility for the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, allowing agencies to deliver water where it is most needed.
Doing nothing is not an option. The status quo will only push California closer to becoming a true desert state, devastating our economy and raising food prices nationwide.
One provision that is repeatedly misinterpreted involves voluntary transfers of water from one water district to another.
This narrowly focused bill states that voluntary water transfers during the months of April and May would remain at a 1:1 ratio, while all other water in the river - the regular flow - would continue to be pumped at the percentage required by the salmon biological opinion.
The insinuation that this locks in pumping levels for the whole year, or that it affects the entire flow of the river and not just voluntary transfers, is incorrect. It is true we need a long-term solution. We need more storage to hold water from wet years for dry years. This should be addressed by a state water bond, which hopefully will be placed on the November ballot.
This bill is about providing water agencies with the ability to fairly distribute what water we do have. I believe this bill is vital for our state, and I will continue my efforts to push for water storage and increased operational flexibility of our water distribution systems while protecting fish and wildlife within existing law.
Dianne Feinstein represents California in the U.S. Senate.