Toast the Water Bill with Whiskey

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

Fights over water are the norm but the successful water bill that passed Congress last week with a rider provision for California may upset the old standard that water is for fighting and whiskey is for drinking. The bill will divert runoff water to parched farms and set up storage, desalination and recycling programs in California. The overall measure sailed through the House and Senate despite opposition from California’s junior senator, Barbara Boxer, and now awaits the president’s signature.

Masterminded by Senator Dianne Feinstein and the House of Representative’s Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the bill balances the interests of the environment with the concerns for jobs to bring water to California’s rich, but parched, agricultural land. As Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers, which represents local and regional family farmers who grow fresh produce stated, the bill comes at an important time. “California is entering its rainy season and we cannot once again allow flawed policies to prevent reasonable diversions from runoffs to storage.”

Often attributed to Mark Twain but never verified is the empirical truth that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over. There continues to be a fight over water allocation in the state of 39 million people with a strong core of environmental advocates. Yet, the economic aspects of water shortages could not and should not be ignored. Small farmers and businesses in the parched Central Valley will get a boost if the legislation is signed into law.

Senator Boxer’s objection beyond environmental issues is that benefits would go to big agricultural businesses. Others object to the legislation not on merits but that the Trump Administration would be overseeing the bill’s implementation and that the incoming administration cannot be trusted.

Years of frustration with improving the lot of the Central Valley and Southern California farmers and a compromise, bi-partisan bill three years in the making should be turned aside because of suspicions about an administration not yet in power? Hardly a recipe for supporting bi-partisan solutions.

As to the charge that the water bill is about big business, California’s senior senator sees it much differently. Senator Feinstein told the Sacramento Bee, “This water is for the tens of thousands of small farms that have gone bankrupt, like a melon farmer who sat in my office with tears in his eyes.”

Two years ago, by a two-thirds vote, California voters backed a water bond that reflects the same spirit of of the bill that passed in Washington last week. Proposition 1 had a number of provisions including $2.7 billion set aside for water storage projects, dams and reservoirs, almost 40-percent of the total bond.

In supporting that bond, I wrote on this site, that the water bond carried the DNA of major historical efforts to move water, allowing California to grow and thrive. Not only did Governor Pat Brown risk his reputation in supporting the bond that created the State Water Project, but also President John F. Kennedy twice visited the state to dedicate new water storage dams.

While environmental sensitivity has grown since the middle of the last century, the efficient and reasonable use of water is still an important priority for the state’s people and businesses.

Here’s hoping President Obama will sign the recently passed legislation.

And then Senator Feinstein and Congressman McCarthy and many Californians can toast to their success with a shot of whiskey.

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