The full House Interior Committee voted Wednesday to approve re-authorization of the Central Utah Reclamation Project and wrap it into a big omnibus reclamation bill.
More importantly, the committee voted to accept a compromise over reclamation reform, the provisions that killed the measure late last year.Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., acting chairman of the committee, accepted three amendments offered by Rep. Richard Lehman, D-Calif., that substantially softened the bill's effects on California farmers who rely upon federally subsidized irrigation water. It was a standoff between Miller and Sen. Pete Williams, R-Calif., over reclamation reform last fall that killed the CUP in 1990.
Lehman represents Fresno in California's Central Valley, where large farms have come under attack for using federal water in excess of what they are entitled to under the 1902 federal reclamation law.
Lehman's amendments would allow farmers and groups of farmers more time to phase out use of federal water and would specifically permit several types of use of water that might have triggered a water cutoff under Miller's 1990 bill. Lehman also won approval of an amendment to allow growers of surplus crops to choose between receiving subsidized water or crop subsidies, but not both.
Rep. Sam Gejdenson, D-Conn., fought the latter amendment, arguing that no federal irrigation water should go to grow crops that are in surplus.
Lehman's amendment to permit growing of surplus crops with federal water was approved on a 24-17 vote, over Chairman Miller's no, but without strong opposition from the chairman.
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, voted to approve the omnibus bill. Both men earlier supported an amendment giving local officials in the state the right to submit recommendations to the proposed conservation commission that would be set up for CUP.
Owens said the Miller-Lehman compromise would likely head off all strong opposition to the bill.
"We ought to get the bill through the Merchant Marine Committee very quickly and go to the House floor in two to three weeks," Owens predicted.
"I believe this has all been worked out with the Senate," Owens added, suggesting that the Miller-Lehman compromise was probably acceptable to Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Water and Power Subcommittee.