New drought relief legislation in the U.S. Senate has garnered support from Western Growers Association and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Senate Democrats offer drought legislationSen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced the California Emergency Drought Relief Act Feb. 11 with her colleagues Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both D-Ore.

It would provide $300 million in emergency funds for drought-relief projects and economic assistance, and require federal agencies to use existing powers to maximize water supplies.

Those powers include pumping practices that produce reverse flows of water from -1,250 to -5,000 cubic feet per second in parts of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta from December to June — which makes more water available to growers. That’s within current limits under endangered species protection for the Delta smelt.

The Senate proposal followed passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of a drought relief measure backed by California Republicans David Valadao, Kevin McCarthy and Devin Nunes.

That bill would allow for increased pumping and temporarily halt restoration of the San Joaquin River. Feinstein opposed it, arguing among other things that it undermines state law on Delta restoration and species protection.

Western Growers Association president and chief executive officer Tom Nassif welcomed the Senate proposal.

“If enacted, these changes would provide assistance to water users and our farmers who face critical shortages and as such Western Growers supports passage,” he said in a news release.

“We hope that this bill will be promptly taken up and passed in the Senate so it can move quickly to a conference with the House bill passed last week,” he said.

California Farm Bureau Federation president Paul Wenger was also urging a bipartisan resolution.

“We hope the House and Senate can work together to craft a bipartisan solution that will both help with immediate water challenges and address the long-term need for additional water storage,” he said in a statement.

“If we don’t add above-ground storage, we will lose the ability to replenish storage in our underground aquifers,” Wenger said. “Adding both aboveground and underground storage would bring more flexibility to a California water system stretched beyond its limits by population growth, environmental requirements, climate change and other forces.”

President Barack Obama, who threatened to veto the House bill should it reach his desk, is scheduled to meet with Nassif and others in Fresno, Calif., Feb. 14 on the drought. Details of that trip were not immediately available.

The Oregon senators — Wyden and Merkley — are seeking relief for Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers hit by drought. Snowpack in the basin is just 20% of normal.