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Feinstein files drought legislation; Chinook salmon near extinction?

Merdies Hayes | 7/31/2015, 12:25 p.m.

Sen. Diane Feinstein this week filed her long-anticipated legislative response to the California drought. The veteran lawmaker wants to broker a compromise that has for four years eluded Congress as her home state reveals each day more fallowed fields and brown lawns.

Feinstein’s proposal would allocate over the next 10 years $1.3 billion for water storage, desalination and other projects. Her plan is said to be in marked contrast to one approved by the House in June which would pump more water to Central Valley growers by rolling back environmental protections.

“The House Republicans did their own bill, and we did our bill,” Feinstein said.

So far the two sides have not demonstrated many areas of common ground on how to deal with the water shortage, including providing money for storage projects and efforts to control invasive predator species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. And the stakes are high, because no one really knows if Congress will pass any meaningful legislation to help the drought-ridden state. Congress adjourns this evening for summer recess.

A key Republican, Rep. David Valadao of Hanford, has not warmed up to Feinstein’s bill, but he has left some room for negotiation. He said Feinstein’s proposal “... included some useful provisions while doing little to deliver more water to farmers and families.”

“I remain hopeful we can come to an agreement that can advance through the House and Senate,” Valadao said in a statement.

Feinstein said she expects her bill to get a hearing in September and that she would like to pass a law by winter. Numerous California lawmakers from both parties have introduced measures—or plan to—that would become part of the discussion. Some are specific to California, and some take a regional view because nearby states like Nevada, Arizona and Oregon are also experiencing drought-like conditions.

As farmers cut back on planting, and residents reduce watering, the tanks of the Livingstone Stone National Fish Hatchery near Shasta Lake are providing refuge this summer for salmon nearly out of water. Staffers there are banking on the only insurance policy available in case the Chinook salmon population in the Sacramento River nears extinction because of the drought.

They have about 1,050 baby salmon which will reseed the population should it become extinct in the wild. The drought has been accelerating the anticipated demise of several of California’s endangered fishes, including salmon. Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration named the central California coho (another salmon breed) and the Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon as two of the eight endangered species in the nation which are “most at risk of extinction.”