This vote was on an amendment that would have scrapped an attempt to extend and lengthen contracts to ship water from the environmentally sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farms and communities in the San Joaquin Valley of California.
Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill that would alter the management of one of California’s largest waterways to favor agribusiness over environmental and conservation interests. Under the bill, farmers with contracts to receive water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta could unilaterally request a renewal of those contracts. If the request is made, the federal government would renew the contract for 40 years – longer than the 25-year limit currently in effect.
Rep. Garamendi argued that this provision of the bill overrides California’s ability to make decisions about how its water resources should be allocated. He argued that other states should also be concerned about the precedent this would set.
“What's happening here in this bill is the removal of the power of the state to allocate its water, to look at the water resources and to make some sense out of what is happening with water,” Rep. Garamendi said. “Apparently, we're not going to care about that anymore, and we're simply going to bring to the federal government the power to appropriate water in California. That's precisely what happens here.”
Republicans argued that 40-year water contracts are necessary because their long-term nature helps farmers gain access to credit. They noted that 40-year contracts are common, and that in fact the contracts for Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water had been shortened to 25 years only in 1992.
“Why did they move in 1992 to 25 years? Conveniently that made it very hard for farmers to get loans on their land, especially when they were not sure if they were going to have a water supply. That's what this bill tries to fix,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) said. “That's why we should vote ‘no’ on this amendment because I believe our Founding Fathers and previous members of Congress who came before us knew at the time that a 40-year agreement would be enough for farmers and people trying to borrow money to go and borrow that money so they could put their families to work and provide for their families.”
Rep. Garamendi’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 181-243. Voting “yea” were 179 Democrats and 2 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 236 Republicans and 7 Democrats. As a result, the House moved forward with legislation that would extend and lengthen contracts to ship water from the environmentally sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farms and communities in the San Joaquin Valley of California.