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As House Ok's Big Water Bill, Sen. Feinstein Spills Plans For Even Bigger Legislation

Mcclatchy Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON - The House gave final approval Thursday to a $33.5 billion energy and water bill, a snap compared with a future Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta package some lawmakers now envision.

Michael Doyle - McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - The House gave final approval Thursday to a $33.5 billion energy and water bill, a snap compared with a future Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta package some lawmakers now envision.

The appropriations bill funds projects throughout the Central Valley, including Delta levee studies and regional flood control. Its final passage was never in doubt, as it is one of a dozen bills needed to run the federal government in fiscal 2010.

But even as lawmakers were approving the energy and water bill, which includes $40 million for restoration of the Delta and San Francisco Bay, they were starting to anticipate a potential new bill focused strictly on the vulnerable Bay-Delta region. If it flies, the prospective Delta legislation could literally reshape California.

"The Delta estuary has enormous national significance," Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein reiterated Thursday, and "it is seriously at risk."

Feinstein first revealed her intentions for a comprehensive Delta bill in a brief interview Wednesday with the San Francisco Chronicle. The seemingly offhanded revelation made after a heated public hearing caught many by surprise. Well-connected lobbyists and water district officials contacted Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted being caught off guard by the prospect of a big Delta bill.

Behind the scenes, though, California lawmakers including Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and Reps. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater, have quietly been discussing what lessons might be gleaned from previous U.S. environmental-restoration efforts such as those for the Everglades, Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes.

These informal discussions, held over the past several months, will have to accelerate to meet Feinstein's goal, averred Thursday, of introducing a Delta bill by April.

"I think it can be a very helpful effort to provide the resources necessary," Costa said Thursday, stressing that "the precedent has been established" on some of the nation's other major environmental endeavors.

Boxer added Thursday that she supports "efforts to find comprehensive solutions to the water crisis that respect all stakeholders," and Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, said he was pleased that Feinstein was "putting her attention to this issue."

Still, the coming conflicts could be fast and furious.

Farmers and their allies insist the Endangered Species Act should be waived so that more irrigation water can be pumped. This is a deal killer for environmentalists.

Radanovich, while generally praising Feinstein's efforts, stressed that a Delta bill doesn't take care of next year's agricultural season, while Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, dismissed Feinstein's past authorship of California environmental laws.

"I've never seen her write one that works yet," Nunes said Thursday, denouncing Feinstein's supporters as radicals. Still, Nunes added,"I believe that she wants to


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