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McClintock vows to protect Norcal water rights in wake of bill threat

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock is taking a tough stance on area-of-origin water rights protection in the wake of concerns over a newly introduced bill intended to guarantee water for Central Valley agricultural interests. McClintock, R-Roseville, is chairman of the House water and power subcommittee, which held hearings earlier this month on the controversial San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act proposed by southern California Republican congressman Devin Nunes. But Northern California opposition grew as water providers with rights to Sierra flows began to look over language that raised concerns over the potential loss of long-held entitlements. “I intervened to stop the bill and announced it wouldn’t proceed to fully protect California from a water grab,” McClintock said. McClintock said the bill would never clear his committee unless it had full protections for long-held Northern California water rights. The congressman said that he fully understands the need to find a solution to provide Central Valley farms with water instead of allowing it to flow into the Pacific Ocean. “But we will move that legislation only when all parties are satisfied that water rights are fully protected,” he said. “It will stay (in committee) until it is fixed.” McClintock said that ample Sierra snow storage this year should provide plenty of water for the Bay-Delta as well as agriculture this year. Last year, 200 billion gallons of water flowed into the Pacific while 250,000 acres of farmland went without because of recent regulations lawmakers are now grappling with, he said. “Fortunately we have a surplus of water this year so it won’t be an issue and we have the luxury of time,” McClintock said. The Placer County Water Agency learned of the legislation and determined that it was a threat to water rights, said Director of Strategic Planning Einar Maisch. “We expressed our concerns to Congressman McClintock and got a very good response,” Maisch said. “What we’ve seen is an attempt by (Southern California) export interests to steal our water and I appreciate the congressman’s defense of our water rights.” The Mountain Counties Water Resources Association, which represents water interests from all or part of 15 counties from Lassen to Fresno, is also getting assurances from McClintock – a former Southern California resident – that he has their interests in mind. “The association, at the request of Congressman McClintock’s office, will look to propose language to protect our members’ interest relevant to local water-right protection,” Executive Director John Kingsbury said. U.S. Rep. Wally Herger, R-Chico, is also opposing the bill’s water rights stance. Herger said it would negatively impact Northern California water rights while preempting state water law. “As I have long stated, California’s area-of-origin protections are clear and unambiguous – our water needs must be met first, before excess water is allowed to flow south,” Herger said. Herger said Nunes is now committed to working with Northern California interests to address their concerns. “I agree with Congressman Nunes’ desire to address the ESA-driven water shortages that have needlessly devastated family farmers and the economy of rural California,” Herger said. “However, my primary responsibility in Congress is to the North State, and any legislation designed to address these problems must fully protect and respect Northern California’s superior water rights.”