In response to Western drought, a flood of legislation

Joseph Morton, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Weather News

The idea behind such a project is that it can be financed in part with money contributed by others in the basin in exchange for Southern California giving up some of its water rights.

Rep. Grace F. Napolitano, D-Calif., has touted the need for those kinds of recycling projects to deal with drier conditions.

“Well, Mother Nature didn’t give us any new water,” Napolitano said at a hearing earlier this year. “We have to reuse, recycle and clean it and not abuse it as much as we do right now.”

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and other lawmakers have proposed legislation that would exempt water conservation rebates from federal income taxes.

Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have cited the intense drought as further evidence of the need for sweeping measures to combat climate change. Their immediate drought solutions have focused on water conservation and recycling.

Many Republicans have historically blamed water shortages, at least in part, on mismanagement and overreaching federal protections for fish and other wildlife that they say restrict how much water is available for people.

GOP lawmakers have criticized Democratic proposals in the pending bills as overly expensive and yet still inadequate for future needs.


“You can’t fix the drought with water recycling,” Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, told reporters recently. “Not to say that water recycling is not important, but it’s much larger scale than that. They like to put Band-Aids on the problem after they’re out there.”

Instead, Westerman and other Republicans focus on increasing water storage capacity, which generally means building new dams and reservoirs. Specifically, Republicans have talked about the need to go forward with the Sites Reservoir and building up the Shasta Dam in California.

But critics of that approach say projects such as the Sites Reservoir would ultimately hurt wildlife and still not solve the problem.

Huffman, chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, said at a drought-related hearing that dealing with such dry conditions will require major infrastructure upgrades backed with increased federal spending.

“Pretending that there are simple fixes, that if we just weaken environmental laws or build another huge dam that this problem will go away, that’s a form of denial that we cannot afford to indulge,” Huffman said.

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