Feinstein Offers Pact with Water Devil

Yesterday U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., responded to a Republican-backed water bill stalled in the U.S. Senate with a deal that might end up as a pact with the water devil for farmers and water agencies.

Feinstein included provisions in an amended Senate Appropriations agriculture and energy bill to possibly provide more certainty of water supplies for Central Valley farmers.

Feinstein also surprisingly dangled the carrot of an expedited federal review for approval of the proposed Sites Reservoir in Colusa County. Water for the Sites Reservoir would be diverted from the Sacramento River.

Stalled House Bill Would Repeal Feinstein’s 2009 Water Bill

The House bill that is stalled in the U.S. Senate, H.R. 1837 by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia., would have repealed Feinstein’s 2009 San Joaquin River Restoration Act, H.R. 146.

Feinstein’s 2009 bill took water allocations from farmers and transferred them to commercial fishing, recreational and real estate interests in northern California under the guise of environmental restoration.

Her 2009 bill also required future renewal of agricultural water contracts to go through an environmental review process. That would be like farmers and water agencies having to deal with the water devil by having to pay for contrived environmental mitigations payouts to so-called “stakeholders.”

The Apparent Deal at Hand

What is apparently on the bargaining table now is a trade of expedited federal review of a new proposed water storage reservoir and possible greater certainty of farm water in return for keeping the provisions of Feinstein’s 2009 bill intact. As it is often said, the devil is in the details.

Feinstein’s amendments to the Senate’s appropriations bill would:

* Provide for a six-month study by the Department of the Interior on ways to bring about additional farm water deliveries;

* “Urge” the Department of Interior to “facilitate and expedite” transfers of federal Central Valley Project water to farmers; and

* Expedite the Federal review for the new proposed Sites Reservoir.

A Deal with the Devil? 

The critical question with such a deal: Is it a pact made with the Water Devil — a bargain done for present gain without regard to future cost or consequences?

Would farmers and water agencies be willing to incur huge future environmental liabilities on the flimsy promise that federal agencies would comply with being “urged” to fast-track water transfers and review of a new proposed reservoir?  Why would federal agencies need “urging” to fast track review of a new dam when California only has a half-year of water storage capacity in its present water system?  Wouldn’t California’s thin water storage capacity be enough of an emergency to rush reviews?

And what would prevent such guarantees included in an agricultural and energy bill from being easily overturned? What would hold both parties to their part of the bargain in the long term?  California water history indicates that water deals obtained by “force and/or fraud” are bound to unravel while those obtained by “consent of the governed” are more lasting.

And why would farmers and water agencies be willing to deal with the Water Devil of environmental reviews of their water contract renewals when the outcome of the Department of Interior study six months down the road is uncertain?

Even Democratic Congressman Jim Costa of agricultural Fresno is cited as a backer of the “more aggressive House proposal,” HR 1837, rather than Feinstein’s deal.  However, Costa also said Feinstein’s deal was “helpful.”

Nunes said he would not reject Feinstein’s deal on its face but wanted greater assurances.

Maybe a deal can be struck now that negotiations have been re-opened.  But it is an election year for Feinstein. And that may mean floating up a deal for farmers and water agencies that is meant to buy votes.  Feinstein’s deal would not repeal her one-sided 2009 water bill that was ramrodded through Congress by force and fraud instead of consent of the governed.

‘Force, Fraud or Consent of the Governed?’

The Sacramento Bee described the pending Senate agricultural and energy appropriations bill as a “must pass” piece of legislation to keep the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation funded for 2013.  The 2013 fiscal year begins July 1.

It appears that Feinstein is back to the devilish use of “force and fraud” rather than obtaining the “consent of the governed.”  But there still is a small window of time to cut a deal for mutual benefit.

(Wayne Lusvardi is a political commentator and writes for CalWatchdog. Originally posted on CalWatchdog.)