Media’s Overrated Claims for WIIN’s California Benefits
A spate of recent media stories all describe the “big win” that will result for Southern California and California farmers now that the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN) passed the Senate during the lame-duck session.
WIIN — an omnibus bill that incorporates elements of a House companion bill titled the Water Resources Development Act of 2017 (WRDA) — is a $12-billion measure. It includes more than 100 provisions benefitting many states across the nation in addition to its section dealing with California’s water.
The media is focusing on provisions in WINN for programs, authorizations and appropriations dealing with water conservation in California, badly needed infrastructure, Bureau of Reclamation operating criteria, and authorizations of funding of over a half-billion dollars in projects related or unrelated to California’s six-year drought and various environmental goals.
Passing a bill that included the California elements of WINN were a high priority for Congressional Republicans, especially language that dealt with water-supply project funding, minor alterations of criteria imposed on federal water operations, and scientific pilot projects designed to tell us more about ways to save federally listed endangered fish and habitats.
WIIN also contained another provision that was highly publicized and contentious in the weeks leading up to the House and Senate votes. It provided funds to repair Flint Michigan’s toxic lead-polluted pipes, and that element of WINN was a must-pass for Democrats.
The media’s emphasis on the size of the win for California cities and farmers leaves a bitter aftertaste for all those familiar with the bill’s final contents who know the bill still hasn’t won President Obama’s approval and become law. WIIN had a five-year-long history prior to passage, with several starts and many stops.
California water experts note that many provisions present in earlier drafts would have greatly benefitted California’s people, but most of those pertaining to relief for urban dwellers, communities and farms were left on the congressional sausage-making floor.
In the end, the provisions actually included in WINN were only the absolute minimum that the bill could contain and still pass Congress, and nothing more.
Winning President Obama’s signature is also uncertain, a fact missed by media in conferring their premature “big win” coronation. Even if the president signs the bill, it’s California provisions will remain incomplete and marginally useful, a compromise destined to suffer further indignities in the nation’s courts by those that opposed even the watered-down language.
What many can celebrate about WINN is the fact that the bill notched strong bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, no rare feat.
After all, passing federal laws is an endeavor that can no longer be taken for granted. Few today can safely assume that Congress has the stomach to see even good legislative proposals through to the end.
WIIN came within a hair’s breadth of failing passage. In the end, the votes silenced cries of distress and loud shouts of dismay from California Senator Barbara Boxer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and a number of Bay Area members of the California House delegation who apparently forgot they represented interested constituents that needed drought relief or other water provisions that WIIN provides.
Others publicly bemoaned the passage, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and its allies.
With Senator Boxer leading the way, this steroid-driven, environmental special-interest group held, until WIIN’s passage, a perfect record for bottling up every drought-relief bill attempted over the past five years.
The NRDC and its allies tried to stop WIIN and WRDA again this year, using a chorus of other environmental and special-interest groups. Tribes, fishermen, conservationists and wildlife non-profits sang in unison in a concerted campaign, seeking to keep the people of California from accessing their water supply. Their goal had been, and still is, to permanently divert our state’s waters and congressional fiscal appropriation authorizations to other destinations than those provided in WIIN.
As the battle raged and reached its climax in Washington D.C., only California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, remained mute.
Brown’s silence was odd, since WINN would benefit his Twin Tunnel “WaterFix” plan by opening the door to greater water diversions to the Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California via south-of-Delta aqueducts and reservoirs, WaterFix’s stated purpose.
As the media noted, the weak compromise that emerged from all this turmoil and angst was a bill that maintained intact rather than “gutted the Endangered Species Act,” and that will have little effect on the commercial and recreational fishing industry instead of “result[ing] in pain and suffering among our fishing families,” as Boxer, the NRDC and its activist supporters warned.
The media, however, missed entirely the fact that WIIN was just a tiny step with minimal gains for farmers, the Bay Area and Southern California, not the “big win” that reporters and talking heads characterized it.
The effort by the media to portray as a feud the ongoing partisan and leadership division in the California Congressional Delegation and to deflect attention from Boxer’s and NRDC’s failure by scapegoating 25 million drought-suffering Californians makes little sense.
WIIN simply authorizes a half billion dollars out of its total $12 billion in authorizations for projects to serve California’s crisis of water needs, while leaving Washington’s regulatory overreach virtually untouched and holding water deliveries in California to a tiny trickle of their potential life-giving flows.
Long delayed, the congressional passage of WINN can at best be described as a tiny victory — should the President eventually sign it into law — and a starting point for more carefully proscribed improvement that, if realized, would give drought- and regulation-weary Californians a modicum of new hope.
Perhaps the dark days of our state’s water-supply misery, courtesy of a overbearing and unfeeling state and federal bureaucracy, may be finally coming to a close.
Only time and future Congressional actions will reveal if that is likely, or just wishful thinking.