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Congressman Tom McClintock

Representing the 4th District of California

House of Representatives Adopts McClintock Amendment to Stop Federal Agencies from Purchasing Scarce California Water for Fish

May 1, 2015
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – The House of Representatives today adopted an amendment by Congressman Tom McClintock to forbid federal agencies from buying up scarce water during California’s catastrophic drought in order to release it into rivers to meet environmental requirements.  The amendment was subsequently adopted today as part of the Fiscal Year 2016 Energy and Water Appropriations Act. The amendment was adopted on a vote of 226 – 9, and final passage of the Appropriations Act on a vote of 230 –7.

Presenting the amendment to the House during debate yesterday, McClintock noted that despite extreme drought conditions, the Bureau of Reclamation has continued to release tens of thousands of acre feet of water because of environmental mandates.  “These purchases have exacerbated an already perilous scarcity of water while at the same time forcing the price of remaining water supplies even higher,” he said.

Pointing to recent releases from the New Melones Dam, McClintock noted, “In order to benefit a handful of steelhead trout, the Bureau sacrificed enough water to meet the annual needs of a human population of 300,000.  At $700 per acre foot, the cost of this exercise amounted to $21 million.”  McClintock charged, “This makes a mockery of the sacrifices made by Californians who are stretching every drop of water in their homes.”

The Congressman’s House floor remarks in support of the measure are attached:

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House Chambers, Washington, D.C.

Mr. Chairman. 

Hydrologists tell us California is facing the worst drought in 1,200 years. With the rain season officially over, our snow pack is just 3% of normal and many reservoirs are already drawn down perilously. Californians are now threatened with draconian fines if they take too long in the shower. 

This amendment forbids the Bureau of Reclamation from purchasing scarce water in California in the midst of this catastrophic drought for the purpose of dumping it into rivers to adjust water temperatures to nudge baby fish to swim to the ocean. 

As ridiculous as this sounds, that's exactly what the Bureau of Reclamation has been doing throughout this drought.  It is using money taken from family’s taxes in order to purchase water that's desperately needed by these same families and then literally dumping it down the drain in front of them. This exacerbates an already perilous scarcity of water, while forcing the price of our remaining supplies even higher. It also makes a mockery of the sacrifices that every Californian is making to stretch every drop of water in their homes and it undermines the moral authority of the government to demand further conservation from the people when it is squandering water so outrageously itself.

We don't know exactly how much the Bureau is spending for this purpose because they don't account for how their purchased water is used. This measure would forbid them from wasting any of our water on such frivolities as adjusting water temperatures. 

Now this sounds harsh for the fish. Let's remember that in a drought like this one, there would be no water in our rivers, there would be no fish. The dams make it possible to save the water from wet years so that we can get through the dry years. That doesn't work if we open flood gates in an extreme drought like this to make the fish happy. 

This month, the bureau of reclamation released nearly 30,000 acre-feet of water from the New Melones Dam in my district for that purpose. That's enough water to meet the annual residential needs of a population of nearly 300,000 human beings—for the express purpose of encouraging the offspring of some 29 steelhead trout to swim toward the ocean, which, by the way, they tend to do anyway.  And to add insult to injury, almost all of these smolts will be eaten by predators before they reach the ocean. 

So let me put this again and quite bluntly. In order to benefit a handful of steelhead trout, the Bureau sacrificed enough water to meet the annual needs of a human population of 300,000. At $700 per acre-foot, the cost of this exercise amounted to $21 million. 

This is the lunacy of the environmental left and the policies they've imposed on our state and our country. It needs to stop now. And to the extent we can do so through the power of the purse, we must.