By Alan Kovski
Aug. 15 - Negotiations are making progress in the U.S. Congress on a bill to address water supply problems in California, according to congressional staff.
The state's worst drought in decades is providing added motivation for the effort, which comes after years of disputes over competing demands for agricultural water, municipal water and water for fish, including endangered species.
"Everyone involved seems to agree that something has to be done," one staffer said. "Everything is pretty positive right now."
Compromise language has been drafted and redrafted by staffers working for the congressional delegation from California-or more specifically for House Republicans from the state and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Some Republican lawmakers and Feinstein have gotten involved in the reading and commenting on drafts.
The lawmakers involved in the work have agreed not to discuss details of the negotiations, and staffers would not divulge those details. They spoke to Bloomberg BNA on condition of anonymity.
The hope is for a deal soon, but there is not much time left in the legislative calendar before elections in November, a staffer said. He said the time pressure means that the route through the Senate may depend on another unanimous consent vote, which takes less time than conventional Senate procedures.
However, Boxer has been holding back, the staffer said. He said Boxer is waiting on the Obama administration to respond to her request for its position on the issue, and the administration had not done so as of early Aug. 15.
The work to find a compromise began near the start of June after the Senate used the parliamentary procedure of a unanimous consent vote to pass the Emergency Drought Relief Act (S. 2198) without committee action.
Negotiators are trying to reconcile it with the much more ambitious and detailed Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act (H.R. 3964), passed by the House in February.
Negotiations also may be necessary between Feinstein and Boxer to get Boxer to go along with a deal. It was Feinstein who introduced the Senate bill and has reviewed some of the successive draft versions of compromise legislation.
Because of the painful importance of the subject to California, members of Congress from the state have become deeply involved in the negotiations.
"The staff has been given very clear directives [by members] on where to go," a staffer said. He said the staff probably could get 95 percent of the work done, but that a few difficult issues need to be resolved by talks among the members themselves.
The work has been very cordial, he said. It has involved constant e-mails and at least one long conference call a week.
The discussion may hinge on the extent to which the legislation revises strategies for coping with environmental laws, especially the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Those tend to become difficult issues when they involve Bureau of Reclamation management of dams and water flows in rivers, pipes and canals, especially as those flows affect the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and endangered species in the rivers and delta.
More water storage is wanted in the state, but that can encounter strong opposition from environmental advocates worried about impacts of dams and water withdrawals on river ecosystems. House Republicans frequently have argued the state would do a better job of helping both people and fish if it stored more water for release during droughts rather than allowing so much water to flow into the Pacific Ocean.
To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Kovski in Washington at email@example.com
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The Emergency Drought Relief Act (S. 2198) is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=akoi-9mzs72 .
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act (H.R. 3964) is available at http://1.usa.gov/1ibYHoj .
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