By Dianne Feinstein
Originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee

The Bee editorial board asserts that several provisions in the Emergency Drought Relief Act are flawed, (“Feinstein’s water bill is an overreach,” Editorials, April 17). I would like to explain in more detail how those provisions would work.

On April 1, Sen. Barbara Boxer and several colleagues joined me to introduce this bill, which would offer immediate drought relief to farms, businesses and communities throughout the state.

The Bee rightly states that the bill lacks $300 million in emergency spending for drought relief programs, but the bill would attract no Republican votes for cloture if those funds were included.

The bill does, however, raise certain caps on key programs to provide relief to drought-stricken communities and includes five critical provisions that would directly help California.

The editorial suggests the bill would benefit only a few water districts. To the contrary, the bill’s benefits would be felt statewide, helping move water supplies to areas most in need of them, including businesses, farms, homes and communities running short on drinking water.

Another flawed assertion is that the bill “would lead to federal micromanagement of pump operations in the Delta, rather than letting experts in the water and fish agencies make real-time decisions balancing all state interests.”

The fact of the matter is that California does not have sufficient infrastructure to capture water in wet years for use in dry years, or the ability to adjust to severe drought conditions. Therefore – within existing laws and biological opinions – we must operate the state and federal water systems with maximum flexibility during this historic drought.

The editorial criticizes two specific provisions in the bill I would like to address.

First, The Bee asserts that a provision to promote voluntary water transfers between water districts would harm fish and water quality. This provision was included so that when districts with more water choose to transfer water to districts with less water, the full amount of the transferred water can flow through the Delta rather than leaving part of it behind.

The Bee’s claim that this 1:1 ratio of incoming-to-outgoing water is locked in “regardless of water availability” is simply wrong. This provision applies in a limited manner when sufficient water supplies are available for voluntary transfer, and does not waive fish or water quality protections.

Second, The Bee asserts that the bill does not protect all species of fish. The bill explicitly states that all water management provisions shall be carried out “consistent with applicable laws (and) regulations.” This includes the Endangered Species Act and all biological opinions for listed species.

California is clearly in need of drought relief, and soon. This bill would put in place emergency measures only for the duration of the drought, and it should be enacted as soon as possible.