- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California introduced a new drought relief bill Wednesday that emphasizes long-term investments in desalination, recycling and new or expanded reservoirs.

The bill is dramatically different from an effort last year that stalled when lawmakers could not reconcile vastly diverse bills passed in the House and Senate.

It strips out some provisions disliked by environmental groups and adds some of their priorities. For example, there’s more emphasis on water recycling. The bill identifies 105 potential recycling projects in the state and authorizes an additional $200 million to fund such projects.

Feinstein said the changes in the bill reflect more of a long-term focus. She said her bill would cost an estimated $1.3 billion over 10 years. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer is a co-sponsor.

Republican lawmakers in the House have passed a drought relief bill that focuses on requiring water project managers to divert more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta before it flows into the ocean. The Obama administration opposed the bill.

It’s still going to be difficult for Congress to pass a water bill, and Feinstein knows it.

“Of all the bills I’ve done, this has been the hardest because to make water where there is no water is really difficult,” she said.

Feinstein hopes to have the bill included in a broader Senate drought effort focusing on the entire West. She said she borrowed provisions from legislation sponsored by Boxer, and California Reps. Jared Huffman, a Democrat, and David Valadao, a Republican.

Valadao said he could not support the bill as currently written but was hopeful about an eventual agreement. The bill contains some useful provisions while doing little to deliver more water to California farmers and families, he said.

The most expensive aspects of Feinstein’s bill would authorize $600 million for water storage projects. Studies are being conducted that are looking into the feasibility of raising Shasta Dam as well as building new off-site reservoirs such as the proposed Sites Reservoir that would be located north of the delta.

The bill would also authorize $100 million over five years for desalination research and project designs.

Republicans have been reluctant to approve new spending.

Feinstein is hoping there will be enough broad interest in helping the West that more lawmakers will work to find ways to pay for the bill. Last year, Feinstein removed $300 million in emergency spending to improve the prospects for getting the bill passed.

“You can’t make new water without spending some money,” Feinstein said.


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