Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.

McCarthy, Valadao press for emergency provisions allowing stormwater to flow to valley farmers

Rep. David Valadao

Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford

Reps. Kevin McCarthy and David Valadao joined eight other Republican members of Congress this week in calling on President Joe Biden and Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare emergencies that would allow the maximum amount of water from this week's storms to be diverted south to Central Valley farmers.

A letter the lawmakers sent Tuesday asserted government has a moral obligation to provide relief to California families and farms suffering because of this year's "catastrophic manmade drought."

"Government regulations should not and must not deny our constituents critical water from these storms," the letter stated. "While we cannot make it rain, we must take advantage of opportunities to store water when it does." It added that time is of the essence.

As the latest Republican-led effort to loosen restrictions that have cut water deliveries from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta east of San Francisco, the letter wades into a longstanding controversy about how to balance the needs of endangered species with the valley's growing thirst for irrigation water.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but a spokeswoman for the California Natural Resources Agency said by email that although this week's storms brought much-needed precipitation, "we have a long way to go to make up the deficit from the past two years."

Lisa Lien-Mager, the agency's deputy secretary for communications, added that state officials are monitoring runoff and inflows, and that already some 40,000 acre-feet of water from the storm has been moved for storage into the San Luis Reservoir west of Los Banos. She wrote that the State Water Board has lifted restrictions on diversions "where appropriate given the storms."

"We continue to operate the State Water Project (canal system) to balance needs for the ecosystem and species with water supply needs for communities, farms and businesses," Lien-Mager stated.

The president of the California Fresh Fruit Association, Ian LeMay, said by phone Wednesday the trade group supports federal lawmakers' "all hands on deck" response to farmers' water plight ahead of what is shaping up to be another dry winter.

When heavy rain events hit like they did this week, he said, it's imperative to maximize its utility, not only for the sake of farmers but also environmental causes and communities in need of clean drinking water.

“We need to capture every drop of water we can,” LeMay added.

Tuesday's letter pointed out that Monday's category-five atmospheric river event drenched the northern part of the state and set single-day records in many places. It said atmospheric models suggest California will likely see additional atmospheric river activity in the coming weeks, and that with the ground still saturated from this week's storms, additional rain will flow through the Delta into the ocean unless it can be diverted.

Meteorologist David Spector with the National Weather Service in Hanford said Wednesday afternoon an atmospheric river is expected to hit Oregon and Washington between Nov. 5 and Nov. 8 but that it probably won't rain on California. He predicted "a little bit of rain" might fall on Northern California early next week.

Besides being signed by McCarthy of Bakersfield and Valadao of Hanford, Tuesday's letter bore the signatures of Reps. Ken Calvert of Corona, Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita, Darrell Issa of Bonsall, Young Kim of La Habra, Doug LaMalfa of Richvale, Tom McClintock of Elk Grove, Devin Nunes of Tulare and Michelle Steel of Seal Beach.

The executive director of Northern California environmental and community advocacy group Restore the Delta, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, called the lawmakers' request unacceptable because, she said by email, it circumvents laws that protect the Delta.

Toxic algal blooms have spread in the Delta because of reduced freshwater flows during the drought, she stated, and fish populations have plummeted as a result of state and federal water management favoring agriculture.

"Enough is enough," she wrote. "The state and federal government need to follow and enforce existing laws to protect the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary, California's forgotten gem, rather than almonds for export that enrich industrial agribusiness worth less than 2 percent of the state's (gross domestic product)."