"Good morning, Chairwoman Murkowski, Ranking Member Cantwell, and Members of the Committee.
I appreciate the invitation to testify before you today on my legislation, H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015, which passed the House of Representatives this past June.
Before we get into the details of the bill, I want to share a little bit about the area I represent.
California’s Twenty First Congressional District is unique. Located in the southern half of the Central Valley, my district spans about 160 miles from the Fresno County line to just south of Bakersfield. An agricultural powerhouse, the Central Valley produces the majority of fruits, vegetables, and nuts for the entire nation.
Minority populations make up over eighty percent of my constituency. And our communities face many unique challenges due to our rural setting, such as a lack of access to healthcare and education.
With another man-made drought evolving, the San Joaquin Valley is in danger of becoming a dust bowl unless immediate action is taken to change policies that put the needs of fish above the livelihood of people.
As a life-long resident of the Central Valley, and a dairy farmer in Hanford, I have witnessed firsthand the challenges faced by many Valley residents when water resources become scarce.
Today, parts of my district are suffering from unemployment rates as high as fifty percent. As farmers are forced to fallow thousands of acres, the ripple effects are felt throughout the community. Workers are laid off and families are unable to provide for their children. And while food lines continue to grow, we must import food from other countries just to meet demand. I have seen families, out of options, living in shacks alongside the road.
It is difficult to watch my friends and neighbors, people I grew up with, suffer because of the laws passed by Congress and the method in which federal agencies have chosen to implement these laws. The San Joaquin Valley is facing a dire situation, and the simple fact of the matter is that we, as Members of Congress, need to add a bit of commonsense into the law.
In an effort to throw a lifeline to California, and all of the Western States enduring years of drought, I worked with my colleagues to act decisively.
My legislation, H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act, would streamline the regulatory process, provide flexibility, and improve scientific efforts to restore some water supplies. In turn, providing more economic certainty to farmers and communities in the San Joaquin Valley.
Although lack of precipitation contributes to the Valley’s water supply situation, problems are exacerbated by federal regulations and the decisions of Federal and State water managers.
The dedication of vast quantities of water - for the protection of endangered fish, is done at a great cost to communities in Central and Southern California. Despite this, there is no scientific indication that the condition of the very fish they are trying to protect has improved.
Furthermore, there may be alternative methods to protect fish from predatory species that could allow for additional water supplies to be made available to those areas most in need.
My legislation would ensure that the federal government’s decisions to protect listed species are effective and based on up-to-date science. H.R. 2898 also requires agencies to use the most accurate survey methods to determine how water projects can operate to maximize water utilization and deliveries.
We all know that government cannot make it rain, however Congress does have the ability to expand water storage in wet times so we can get through inevitable dry years. With more reservoirs, we can expand our water infrastructure and storage to ensure a reliable water supply for the future. Dam feasibility studies that began over a decade ago, are still incomplete today, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
H.R. 2898 improves the process to build new storage on a West-Wide basis through provisions modeled after the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. It makes common sense changes to the Safety and Dams Act. Reducing such red tape could prevent additional years of inaction.
This legislation is extremely measured, given the carnage caused by federal involvement. The language regarding California that passed the House of Representatives is very similar to the language negotiated with the Senate just last year. I believe it is reasonable to continue our dialogue from where our conversation ended, rather than where it began.
I’ve experienced the challenges the West faces because of this epic drought. I’ve seen the harm it’s done to people and jobs, and its ever-growing impact on the environment. I remain hopeful that Congress can find a solution to provide relief to all those suffering, not just in California, but for the entire West as well as all those Americans who rely on us so that they may put food on their tables. On behalf of the House of Representatives, we stand ready to work with the Committee to achieve this goal.
Thank you for your time."