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GOP Congress Takes Sides Against Fisheries In Western Water War

The Republicans claim that there is no such thing as climate change. Desperate legislation passed by the Republican House of Representatives yesterday indicates that the truth is quite the reverse.

For decades, climatologists have been warning us that anthropogenic climate change will lead to worsened water shortages in the American Southwest. Now, it’s coming to pass. Droughts and heat waves in the Southwest are, in combination with the depletion of ancient aquifers, forcing different groups in the region to compete for rapidly dwindling supplies.

Who’s going to win in these water wars? Congressional Republicans voted yesterday to tip the scales against Pacific Coast fisheries in favor of inland dryland farmers.

Republican Tom McClintock’s bill, H.R. 1654, also known as the Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act, does a big favor to farmers trying to grow crops on arid land where the natural rainfall is insufficient and groundwater reserves are being sucked dry. The legislation eliminates opportunities for transparency, review and public involvement in the creation of upstream projects that take water from streams and rivers and hold it for agricultural use.

Downstream fisheries, obliterated by new dams and reservoirs, will pay the price. The breeding grounds of salmon and other commercially important fish will be cut off and degraded, both upstream and down, as a result of the restricted flow of water. Downstream communities will also suffer, deprived of their own access to the water hoarded upstream.

Tom McClintock’s district is upstream. So are the districts of most of the other Southwestern Republicans who voted for the Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act.

Yesterday, U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal, who lives in a downstream district, offered an amendment to the Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act. The Lowenthal amendment would have created an exemption to the new, rushed, transparency-free process for water hoarding upstream. Any projects determined to be harmful to commercial fisheries downstream would have had to go through the ordinary review process if the Lowenthal amendment passed.

The Lowenthal amendment to the Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act was crushed by congressional Republicans. Only 2 Republicans, neither of whom represents a Southwestern district, voted in favor of the amendment.

This vote exposed what the Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act is really all about. It isn’t at all about streamlining. It’s about stream blocking. It’s about choosing winners and losers, putting the economic priorities of certain congressional districts over the needs of other districts.

The Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act is just one strike in an ongoing, desperate struggle over who gets water in a Southwest that’s increasingly parched and baked as climate change accelerates. It’s a mean-spirited piece of legislation that fails to address the underlying problem that the Republicans in the White House and Congress still, despite overwhelming scientific consensus, won’t even admit exists.

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