Lawmakers get testy in water debate

WASHINGTON — Sharp partisan conflict now divides the once-united San Joaquin Valley lawmakers who are seeking solutions to the region's water shortage.

The simmering conflict boiled over Tuesday as two Valley Democrats blasted Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of Visalia for "grandstanding" in zealously pursuing water-delivery amendments. Nunes, in turn, asserted that his valley colleagues were "mesmerized" by liberal environmentalists.

"This is baloney, to be doing this sort of thing," Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, said of Nunes' approach. "I have had a number of my colleagues tell me they are fed up with it."

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, added that Nunes has been "not helpful" with repeated water-related amendments that Costa characterized as grandstanding.

Last week, Nunes had been invited to meet with Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes and House Democrats to discuss Western issues. Nunes said Tuesday that he was "disinvited" to the meeting as a result of Democratic displeasure over his sharp-tongued rhetoric that often targets House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and what he invariably calls "radical environmentalists."

Nunes insisted he remains "friends" with Cardoza and Costa, even as he dismissed their water-related efforts as inadequate.

"My friends have been mesmerized," Nunes said Tuesday. "It's like they're under a spell of some kind. I hope they get their sea legs under them again and return to reality."

Hot-button issue

Drought dominates the thinking of all three House members, as well as other lawmakers representing the San Joaquin Valley. Low precipitation along with judicial and regulatory decisions designed to protect endangered species and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have combined to slash irrigation water deliveries.

Nunes has attacked the problem by writing amendments that would cut off funding for some environmental decisions. One amendment would have blocked a National Marine Fisheries Service decision that cuts delta water deliveries by as much as 7 percent to protect endangered Chinook salmon and steelhead.

The House rejected Nunes' original water-delivery amendment last month by a 208-218 margin. He has since tried several times to offer similar amendments, and has either been defeated or denied the chance to bring the amendment to the House floor.

On Tuesday, Cardoza and other Democrats on the House Rules Committee rejected Nunes' latest bid to offer three water-related amendments to a fiscal 2010 energy and water funding bill.

Instead, the rules panel permitted Costa and Cardoza to offer their own amendments when the House takes up the energy and water bill.

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at or 202-383-0006.