Calif. water war spreads to Congress

Posted on October 16, 2009. Filed under: Claifornia | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

By KEVIN FREKING,
 Associated Press Writer Kevin Freking,

WASHINGTON – It was the kind of legislation that rarely generates much debate in Congress: a bill to expand a local water recycling program.

However, the House spent more than three hours Thursday trying to decide whether to allow the creation of six recycling projects in the San Francisco area.

In the end, the bill passed easily, as everyone knew it would. The lengthy and often pointed debate amounted to a Republican gambit that increasing water supplies in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s backyard wouldn’t go over very well with voters in California‘s parched farm belt — and could help tilt some congressional races in the GOP’s favor next year.

Some of the nation’s most productive farmland has been idled because of a water shortage caused by three years of drought, as well as restrictions associated with protecting a native fish. Lawmakers from the San Joaquin Valley have described the economic devastation as their Hurricane Katrina, citing unemployment rates as high as 40 percent in some of the hardest-hit communities.

GOP strategists believe they have a winning plan for the next election by tying the economic woes to Democratic lawmakers.

“Water is going to be the issue in all the congressional districts that are part of the Central Valley,” said Joanna Burgos, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “When you have 40 percent unemployment because of a court order that could be solved by Congress, it’s hard to focus on any other subject.”

Previous water recycling projects have been noncontroversial. For example, Republican lawmakers Ken Calvert, Brian Bilbray and Elton Gallegly all sponsored legislation expanding or establishing recycling programs in their California districts. Those bills all passed overwhelmingly in the House.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., didn’t get such support. The recycling projects authorized through Miller’s bill would be located in the Bay area and would turn more than 7 million gallons of wastewater daily into water for parks, golf courses and landscaping.

In the long run, the program helps the farm belt, Miller said. If parks in his district need less water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, then more water could be made available for other uses, such as meeting the needs of farmers, he said.

“If you want to make it more difficult in the valley, then kill all the recycling projects,” Miller said. “If you want to make it less likely that water’s going to come to the valley, kill all the recycling projects.”

Opponents repeated the contention from San Joaquin Valley lawmakers that protections for fish are being given higher priority than people. Several mentioned San Francisco, Pelosi’s home, in their arguments.

“We are watering lawns in San Francisco and diverting more water to San Francisco,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, “and throwing dust in the face of the hardworking people in the valley.”

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., made it a point to note that the legislation provides millions of dollars for the speaker’s home turf. “All the while, tens of thousand of their fellow citizens suffer economic devastation just a few hours south and inland in the San Joaquin Valley.”

Such arguments could make life difficult for Democratic representatives from the San Joaquin Valley, primarily Reps. Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa. Republicans know that come Election Day, many of those voters will want to make a statement, said Dave Wasserman, an editor at the Cook Political Report.

“To the extent that these Democrats are voting with Nancy Pelosi on anything, Republicans are going to have leverage to tie them with her and to try to send her a message,” Wasserman said.

The two Democrats seemed to take his point to heart. Both voted against Miller’s bill.

Yahoo News/AP

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