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Drought relief bill out for this year

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POSTED November 20, 2014 8:44 p.m.

FRESNO (AP) — Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Thursday that congressional efforts to provide drought relief to Central Valley farmers and communities are dead for the year.

She vowed to try again in 2015, but the outcome could be even less certain because Republicans will control both houses of Congress after they retook the Senate in this month's midterm elections.

"Although we have made progress, it has become clear that we will be unable to present an agreed-upon proposal before Congress adjourns this year," Feinstein said in a statement.

She was one of the key players trying to bridge major differences between separate bills.

The House passed a bill in February that focused on rolling back environmental protections so more water could be diverted to farmers in the Central Valley. The Senate approved a more narrow measure that required federal agencies to pump as much water to farmers as possible without violating existing laws.

The differences were stark, and compromise seemed difficult from the start. Feinstein worked with House Republicans behind the scenes trying to craft a measure that could pass both the House and a Democratic-controlled Senate.

Environmental and fishing groups, as well as some members of Congress from Northern California, criticized the backroom negotiations and said their interests were not being represented. They worried that water would be diverted from their communities to appease agricultural interests.

They applauded Feinstein's announcement Thursday.

"We have been raising serious objections to both the secretive process and the harmful content of this legislation. We will continue to demand next year that any water legislation responding to California's severe drought be balanced and take into consideration the array of stakeholders in California," seven Democratic lawmakers said in a news release.

The state's salmon fishing industry is glad the talks have ended. John McManus, executive director of the Golden State Salmon Association, called the potential legislation arising from the negotiations a "threat to our jobs and livelihood."

Feinstein defended the process, saying back-and-forth negotiations are necessary before arriving at legislation that is ready for public consumption. The negotiations were not about benefiting "corporate agriculture," she said, adding that all sides need to work together to help businesses, farmers, fish and the delta region.

"It's my hope that groups critical of this effort will strive to be productive rather than destructive," Feinstein said.

 

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