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Sacramento Bee | February 10, 2016

After months of hopeful predictions, El Niño is delivering our state much-needed snow and rain. But with Mother Nature doing her small part to ease the drought, the big question remains:

What will we do to capture excess rain and snow now for use in future times of drought?

We know it makes no sense to waste water, especially as Valley residents endure this terrible drought. Sadly, federal and state regulators are letting this precious moment slip by, letting water flow out to the Pacific Ocean.For example, a couple of weeks ago, almost 330,000 gallons of water per second flowed through the Delta and out into the Pacific Ocean. At the same time, less than a tenth of that was sent to the Central Valley and Southern California.

We must ask ourselves what exactly is preventing us from capturing all of this water. The blame lies squarely on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service regulations that put the well-being of fish over people. Specifically, these agencies are requiring pumping to cease or be severely restricted if it impacts fish. More inexplicably, these agencies are curtailing operations simply because of a perceived risk to fish – something that is certainly beyond the original intent of the law and outside the criteria of their own regulations.

For the millions of Californians who are making sacrifices to reduce their water use every day, these contemptuous actions have resulted in the loss of enough water during late January storms to meet the daily water needs of 10 million families.

With predictions since last summer of an El Niño weather pattern, my House Republican colleagues from California and I knew the wet season was coming, so we have sought to get the agencies to allow more pumping. But the law places absolute authority in the hands of these bureaucracies to set pumping levels and interpret the law as they see fit. That is why we decided to try to change the law, passing legislation last year (and three times prior) to reform these regulations to ensure our communities can get this water.

Unfortunately, each time, the Obama administration and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have opposed us and refused to agree to bipartisan proposals.

When I talk to folks who are not from California about the drought, I often recount the famous fable by Aesop, “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” The grasshopper uses times of plenty to live carefree while mocking the ant that is storing food to prepare for hard times.

It’s not too late for the president, our senators and federal agencies to heed the fable’s moral. There may still be storms this winter whose rain and snow we can capture, but that requires policy decisions to be more practical, putting the needs of Californians over fish.

Fixing California’s drought challenge remains my top priority in Congress, and I will continue to work with my House colleagues, the president and Sens. Feinstein and Boxer to find a solution that gets water flowing to the communities in our state that so desperately need it.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy represents California’s 23rd Congressional District.

Tags: Water