BAKERSFIELD, CA - California's drought was in the national spotlight Wednesday. GOP Congressional leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner, met in Bakersfield to unveil emergency drought legislation.
The lawmakers' plan is no small task. They want to temporarily bypass laws protecting endangered fish to help get water down here from up in the Delta, a move they hope will offer immediate relief to growers and residents.
Through the dust of a former cotton field, Speaker Boehner rode into Bakersfield, experiencing firsthand the drought affecting Central Valley farmers, including Larry Starrh.
"This year is the driest year on record in California, and yesterday my family and I sat down and we had to make a tough decision," said Starrh. "We decided we are going to have to fallow or dry up 1,000 acres of almonds that are producing right now. So, this year they're going to die."
That's why Wednesday, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, Congressman Devin Nunes and Congressman David Valadao announced they will propose legislation.
"I want to thank them for their commitment that water is life," said Starrh.
Their plan has to do with the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Kern County is supposed to get more than one-third of its water from this resource. But, this year pumps that pull water to our valley were shut off to protect endangered fish. The congressmen's legislation would lift pumping restrictions and stop the release of this water for restoration.
"Those pumps are off when they need to be on," said Congressman Valadao. "What we're asking for isn't unreasonable."
Speaker Boehner agreed, promising to push the legislation through the House in the next couple weeks.
"How you can favor fish over people is something people. In my part of the world we would never understand," said Boehner.
"For a long time California has a lot of sayings," said Congressman McCarthy. "One of the most important ones is 'whiskey is for drinking and water's for fighting'."
"Water is a weapon. It's a hostage. Our water system is battered and broken. It's been hijacked by unreasonableness and we need help," said Starrh.
The legislation also calls for the temporary formation of a bipartisan committee to draft long-term solutions.
During the announcement, the lawmakers called on Democrats in the Senate to support the legislation. The representatives said multiple times that the Senate failed to act on legislation that would shore up water resources.
Wednesday evening, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Barbara Boxer fired back.
"The point will be to come up with long-term recommendation," said Congressman McCarthy. "The reason why we are moving towards this is because the House has acted. The Senate has never taken a position. How do you solve a problem if the Senate will not even tell you where they stand?"
Within a few hours, Senator Feinstein said in a statement "Although I have not seen a draft of the House proposal, I am concerned that it may follow the pattern of previous House bills which seek to either preempt state law or waive state water quality and Endangered Species Act requirements which could spur serious litigation and likely delay any action."
Senator Barbara Boxer also made a strong statement saying: "In order to address this drought, we need ideas that work for all stakeholders, not ideas that would lead us to the courthouse door and endless argument."
Senator Feinstein added she plans to introduce legislation of her own.