Congress Looks at Drought in Two Different Ways

In separate actions this week, both the House and Senate have moved legislation to deal with various aspects of drought.

In a very specific bill, the House passed HR 3964, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act.  Extreme drought within one of the state’s largest agricultural production areas has reached crisis proportions.  The fast moving bill — introduced less than a week ago — would secure more water for farmers in California’s Central Valley by reversing environmental protections for fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.  The bill, in part, would cap water deliveries used for environmental purposes, remove some watershed protections, and lengthen contracts for irrigation water deliveries.  Thus far, there is no Senate companion to this measure and the President has threatened a veto of the House bill.  However, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is expected soon to introduce legislation that would address drought relief but would not likely reverse the complex negotiated settlements between agricultural and environmental interests.

In the Senate, S 376, the Drought Information Act, has been passed.  The bill reauthorizes the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS).  Often deemed a drought “early warning system,” NIDIS includes climate data and highlights potential drought conditions.  It also includes materials for decision makers on drought management. Managed by NOAA, the NIDIS program would be reauthorized at $12 million per year through 2018.  The House counterpart, HR 2431, was passed and reported from the Science, Space and Technology Committee in December 2013 and includes $13 million in funding.