Rep. Napolitano Calls for Drought Relief, Reopening of Federal Government

Oct 10, 2013 Issues: Economy, Water

(Washington, DC) Today, Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (CA-32), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water and Power made the following statement at a hearing on two pieces of drought legislation:

Thank you to our witnesses for being here today, even during a government shutdown. I am proud to be a cosponsor of H.R. 3176, legislation sponsored by Ranking Member DeFazio. This bill provides the Bureau of Reclamation with the authority and flexibility to get water to entities and tribes who need it during times of drought. Drought costs the U.S. economy between $6 billion and $8 billion annually, with 2012 drought costs possibly exceeding $35 billion dollars. In 2013, almost 50% of our country is in moderate to severe drought. We will hear more of the effects of the drought in the West from the Western States Water Council witness.

We will also hear testimony that the federal government should not help the states during times of drought, that the federal government should not help California, home to the five most productive agricultural counties in the nation and the 8th largest economy, with their water issues. The argument is that California’s problems are not the nation’s problems. It is not that simple. What affects California, affects the nation. This is why we are the United States of America.

H.R. 3189, offered by Rep. Tipton, is legislation that seeks to address an issue between the Forest Service and Ski Areas in his region. The Ski Areas are concerned about the Forest Service’s interim directive that requires the transfer of their water rights to the federal government. The Forest Service is concerned about their ability to manage the land if the ski resorts were to sell their rights. The legislation is so broadly written that it could apply to many actions on federal lands, not just to ski resorts.

It is the responsibility of this committee to ensure proposed legislation receives the proper vetting. We did not receive agency testimony because of the shutdown. We do not have all the answers to the questions we have asked of the administration, again, because of the shutdown. Yet, this hearing is moving forward and it will be the only public opportunity for stakeholders to weigh in before mark up.  We are missing key information without the Administration’s positions on these bills. 

This is not the best way to do business, nor is it the best way to ensure that the legislation we pass serves the best interests of our taxpayers. The best way we can help our communities with their water challenges is to reopen the federal government. We must focus on bringing government up and back to work so the employees of the U.S. Geological Survey can work and comment.

Because of the government shutdown, only 43 of 8,623 USGS employees (less than half of one percent) are at work. We must bring back the 3,311 of the 5,077 Reclamation employees that have been furloughed and are waiting to go back to work. Next year is expected to be a very dry water year and we need them back at their jobs to plan for our water future. It is ironic that it takes the absence of these employees to value their presence. They are essential to this country and to the legislative process, and we need them back at work. 

As we consider these important pieces of legislation, we must first prioritize reopening the government. We must vote on a clean Continuing Resolution with no additions, open the federal government, and put people back to work. Let us do the work our constituents sent us here to do.

Napolitano is the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources’ Water and Power Subcommittee. Her full opening statement from today’s hearing can be viewed here.


# # #