This vote was on an amendment that would have prevented a Republican bill from diverting water supplies intended to protect the environment of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
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. The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta supports sensitive bird and fish populations, but scarce water resources have jeopardized the health of the ecosystem. The bill would divert more water from the Delta south to water-thirsty farms and cities in the fertile San Joaquin Valley. It would also override state and federal environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act.
Rep. Garamendi’s amendment would have deleted a provision of the Republican bill that allows 800,000 acre-feet of water normally reserved for environmental protection to be diverted from the Delta to the San Joaquin Valley. Rep. Garamendi argued that this provision made the legislation “the worst environmental bill in many, many decades.” Diverting the water would harm the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers all the way to the San Francisco Bay, he said.
“Whatever you may say about the species in the Delta, the salmon, the striped bass, the smelt or any other species, this theft of 800,000 acre-feet of water will have a profound and negative effect,” Rep. Garamendi said. “It's water that is there to be used certain times of the year to carry out the necessary protection of species, water that would flow down the river when the salmon want to migrate up the river, water that would be there for the smelt when they are breeding or when they are moving into their breeding habitat. It is one of the biggest water grabs, at least in the last half century, and it will have profound negative effects.”
Republicans argued that the amount of water reserved for environmental purposes in the Delta is too large – and that officials in the Clinton Administration had unfairly rigged the system in the 1990s. They argued that the 800,000 acre-feet of water was set aside for the environment temporarily, and that farmers should now be able to access it to support their crops.
“This amendment, more than any other, focuses on the central issues surrounding the bill. What comes first, people or fish?” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) said.
Rep. Garamendi’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 178-247. Voting “yea” were 178 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 239 Republicans and 8 Democrats. As a result, the House moved forward with legislation that would allow water supplies in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to be diverted to farms in the San Joaquin Valley at the expense of efforts to help fish populations and restore the ecosystem of the Delta.