Trump nominee threatens to shake up Central Valley water status quo

WaterAs a presidential candidate, Donald Trump’s promise to help Central Valley farmers get more water and to reduce environmentalists’ influence over the federal government got him a warm reception in rallies last May and August in the region that leads the way in feeding the nation and in powering California’s$54 billion agricultural industry.

As president, for a variety of reasons, Trump so far has only been able to providepart of the relief on water supplies that many in the Central Valley sought, even in the wake of a winter rain deluge. But Trump has signaled his intent to honor his promise to help the region by choosing David Bernhardt – a veteran of California’s water wars – for the No. 2 job in the Interior Department.

Bernhardt is a Colorado-based partner in Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a multi-state law firm which has on four occasions represented the Central Valley’s Westlands Water District, the largest U.S. irrigation district, in lawsuits targeting Interior Department policies. The law firm has been paid $1.3 million by the water agency since 2011.

Bernhardt’s Senate confirmation is expected this week or soon thereafter, but it may be close to a party-line vote. At a May 17 meeting of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Bernhardt was grilled by ranking Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington and other Democrats over the conflicts of interest he would face because of his history representing Westlands and Cadiz, a Los Angeles land development firm that has fought with federal regulators over its audacious plan to access the water in a Mojave Desert aquifer.

Bernhardt: Effect on jobs should matter in regulatory decisions

At the hearing, Bernhardt repeatedly said he would avoid issues involving former clients unless given the blessing of Interior Department ethics lawyers. But Bernhardt’s remarks in answer to another question explain why he may be such a threat to the Central Valley’s water status quo.

When asked about his commitment to “scientific integrity” in enforcing Interior Department policies, Bernhardt said, “I will look at the science with all its significance and its warts. You look at that, you evaluate it and then you look at the legal decision you can make. In some instances the legal decision may allow you to consider other factors, such as jobs.”

This is music to the ears of many Californian Republicans, starting with Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare. He has long contended that the Central Valley has suffered from a “man-made drought” because of bureaucratic decisions that interpret laws in ways that place the interests of  endangered fish such as the delta smelt over the needs of humans – despite no compelling legal obligation to do so.

The Obama administration rejected the contention, saying that its actions to use fresh water supplies to help sustain the delta smelt instead of helping Central Valley farmers followed laws requiring the federal government to protect endangered species and the ecosystem of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Administration representatives said the decisions Nunes slammed as arbitrary were anything but.

Yet the highest-profile fight between Bernhardt’s law firm and Obama’s Interior Department wasn’t about the delta smelt or allegedly dubious bureaucratic maneuvering. It was over toxic substances in the irrigation water coming from Westlands’ 940 square-mile district. Despite criticism from environmentalists, the Obama administration agreed to a settlement on how the problem would be ameliorated that the Fresno Bee estimated could save the water agency more than $375 million. Greens who didn’t like the ruling couldn’t overcome the case that Bernhardt built that federal courts had consistently held that the federal government bore the burden for building drainage systems to limit the impact of the toxins.

Feds control 100 million acres of land in California

But Bernhardt’s confirmation would also insert him in other California water issues.

As a Sacramento Bee editorial noted, the deputy interior secretary historically has been “directly involved in virtually every aspect of California water, from the Colorado River agreement in the south to the Klamath River in the north, and, especially, the operations of the Central Valley Project.”

Given that the federal government owns or effectively controls 100 million acres of land in California – second only to Alaska in federal land holdings in the 50 states – this focus by the agency’s number two official is unsurprising.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Feinstein continues to block necessary water project

cadiz water projectThe Democrats are at it again. They’re pushing back on the Republican controlled Congress, who is attempting to limit earmarks from being added to the omnibus spending bill. This action – known as policy riders – explains specifically what funding cannot be used on.

While Democrats relied on policy riders extensively in the past, especially in the area of “environmental protection,” having a Republican-controlled Congress has left the Democrats squalling at the practice. If the Republicans are going to undermine the Democratic agenda by implementing their own policy riders, the Democrats are completely against the practice all together, even though they have fought this fight for the last 15 years by using policy riders to protect the EPA.

These policy riders have had an absolutely detrimental impact on California, especially during the severe drought. Senator Feinstein has abused her position on the Appropriates Committee to make sure an important water project in Southern California, known as the Cadiz Valley Water Project, would fail to be built.

The Cadiz Valley Water Project is a no brainer for drought-stricken California.

According to the Environmental Impact Report, a requirement under California’s Environmental Quality Act of 1970, around 400,000 people could benefit from the project, which would provide over 16 million gallons of drinking water.

The Cadiz property is located in the Mohave Desert, between the I-10 and I-40 freeways. The plan calls for the construction of a 43-mile pipeline, which would supply water to the Colorado River Aqueduct from the Cadiz property.

When Cadiz attempted to start the project in the early 2000s with their original partner, Metropolitan Water District, Feinstein used policy riders in the fiscal year 2007 spending bill that blocked Cadiz from receiving any funding.

Senator Feinstein, however, has utilized policy riders in the annual federal spending bill in order to force the federal government to interfere with railroad property rights, which directly impacts Cadiz’s partner, the Arizona & California Railroad. She did this to block the Cadiz Valley Water Project’s funding for federal review, should one be required.

This is the definition of government overreach and politics as usual. Seemingly frustrated that the project’s review doesn’t include Washington bureaucrats, Feinstein has tried to sabotage a project that could provide Southern California with a new water supply. And at what cost?

Feinstein went out of her way to target Cadiz and their ultimate goal of supplying Southern California with water. She can’t attempt to argue against her blatant sabotage.

With California in desperate need of water to sustain our way of life – and no, I’m not talking about the fish – this project should have been pushed forward years ago. If it had been, we would have the added benefit to help battle the current drought.