Congress ignores valley's worries

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday approved a bill to boost Bay Area water recycling, but only after valley lawmakers vented once more their unhappiness about San Joaquin Valley irrigation shortages.

The $32.2 million water recycling bill enjoys widespread support on its own merits, but it provoked a broader and increasingly bitter debate in which one GOP lawmaker invoked the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's water policies.

Several San Joaquin Valley Democrats peeled off to join Republicans in opposition to the Bay Area measure, as the House approved the water recycling legislation by a largely party line 241-173 vote. The bill funds projects in Contra Costa County, Petaluma, Redwood City and Palo Alto. The projects would generate 14,470 acre-feet of water annually. An acre-foot is roughly the amount of water used by a suburban family of four in a year. Bill author George Miller, D-Martinez, and other supporters say this recycled water could help relieve demand on California's stressed water system.

Farmers and their congressional allies largely blame the valley's current water shortages on the Endangered Species Act, under which water is diverted to protect fish including salmon and the delta smelt found in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

"Where there's no water, there's no jobs and no money," said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

Costa and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, joined Republicans led by Rep. Devin Nunes of Visalia in trying to offer San Joaquin Valley amendments to the bill.

The House Rules Committee had blocked the San Joaquin Valley amendments, dismissing them as being designed primarily for political advantage.

The fact that the water recycling bill benefits the Bay Area and was sponsored by a key ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi further incited conservatives. Nunes cited the "left-wing radicals and fringe environmental movement" that he contends are at the heart of irrigation delivery reductions.

Iowa Republican Steve King, who visited Fresno in August, likened California's environmental measures to the water distribution decisions made by Saddam, and then asserted that "we have a manmade drought in order to water more lawns in San Francisco." Federal irrigation officials, though, stress that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta pumps are operating, contrary to the "turn the pumps on" rhetoric heard during the debate.

"We know the drought, not the Endangered Species Act, is why so many people are suffering," said Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento.

Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, who had hoped to offer San Joaquin Valley amendments Thursday, missed the debate because of a family medical emergency.

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