AS CALIFORNIA’S RECORD-WORST DROUGHT continues, local municipalities, farmers, and environmental groups are finding ways to make waves on Capitol Hill. CBS reported Tuesday that 2014 will end as the driest year in the state since 1977—the record-keeping year for water watchers ends in September—and the drought will extend into its fourth winter. As conditions worsen, groups are turning to Congress in an attempt to make themselves heard.
Central to the legislative fight over California’s water is whether environmental restrictions on water use under the Endangered Species Act are partially to blame for water shortages. At least six bills have been introduced that would loosen restrictions designed to protect fish in the San Joaquin River Delta. However, officials in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others contend that the ESA has had little impact on water supplies and that the cause of shortages is almost exclusively the drought.
As the Center for Responsive Politics reports, Westlands Water District, the largest in the nation, has spent $600,000 among four different lobbying firms in an effort to secure more water for its farmers, but environmental groups like Earthjustice point out that agriculture already consumes 80% of the state’s water supply.
While Local municipalities might not have that kind of lobbying clout, but the Fresno Bee notes that at least seventeen cities and counties in California passed resolutions urging Congressional action on the drought. These resolutions were presented before a Congressional hearing earlier this month.
California’s Congressional representatives have been pressing their colleagues to take legislative action to mitigate the drought’s impact, but so far Congress has dragged its feet on the issue. With the August recess just ending and November looming, it seems unlikely that significant legislative action happening anytime soon, even as California closes out one of its driest years ever.