Jeff Denham

Jeff Denham


Union Pacific to fix bumpy Monte Vista railroad crossing


There's good news and bad news regarding the Monte Vista Avenue railroad crossing. The bad news is drivers will once again have to find alternate routes to reach Monte Vista Crossings, Highway 99 and other destinations west of Golden State Boulevard as Monte Vista Avenue will be closed Monday through Thursday next week for additional repairs over the railroad tracks.

The good news is that Union Pacific Railroad finally agreed to fix its misaligned crossing that has made for a bumpy trip for drivers over the past five months.

This will be the third time in five months that the Monte Vista Avenue railroad crossing has been worked on. In August the road was closed as Union Pacific replaced its tracks and concrete panels within the crossing. The City of Turlock was informed the work would raise the tracks half an inch to an inch and prepared the roadway accordingly. When the work was completed, it was apparent that the tracks were raised more than one inch and the concrete panels were not flush with each other.

A bid was put out to repave the road near the tracks and George Reed Inc. of Modesto completed the project last week. While the new gradient made the ride over the tracks less chaotic for motorists, there remains a significant bump where the rail panels are misaligned.

"Turlock's staff and contractors did an excellent job opening the railroad crossing as soon as possible," said Mayor Gary Soiseth about last week's repave. "Unfortunately, it was discovered that the same high quality of work was not done on the actual concrete panels on either side of the rails. We've held Union Pacific Railroad accountable for their less-than-satisfactory work and they will fix the depression in the tracks at no additional cost to Turlock's taxpayers. While the additional closure is a large inconvenience, I urge drivers to be patient as Union Pacific makes good on their promise to make the Monte Vista railroad crossing safe once again."

Mayor Soiseth credits Congressman Jeff Denham for working with Union Pacific to get the Turlock crossing fixed.

"I want to thank Congressman Jeff Denham for his personal attention to this issue with the crossing. Within just one day of calling him, he worked around the clock to make sure Union Pacific officials corrected the unsafe crossing and he is working tirelessly to recover all the costs Turlock had to spend in our own effort to fix the crossing," he said.

Beginning 6 a.m. Monday, Monte Vista Avenue will be closed to all traffic west of Golden State Boulevard for an anticipated four-day period.  The roadway will reopen by 5 p.m. Thursday. Union Pacific RR will be doing a full reconstruction of the crossing, which will include replacing the rail bed, rails and supporting infrastructure as well as all new concrete panels. Union Pacific will also be responsible for any necessary repaving to match the roadbed with the new crossing panels to provide for a smooth transition.

This railroad crossing accommodates more than 30,000 vehicle trips daily, according to the City, and is a vital arterial roadway serving the northern quadrants of Turlock.

Once again, detours will be in place and signage will be posted to assist drivers. Motorists are advised to use either the Taylor Road or Fulkerth Road exits off Highway 99 or be prepared to detour around the construction area using Countryside Drive. The City of Turlock is asking drivers to be patient as there will be some delays for the four-day period in traveling through the area.

All construction costs associated with this work will be borne by Union Pacific Railroad. The repaving work the City of Turlock contractor completed last week cost the City approximately $100,000. The City is also looking for Union Pacific to reimburse the funds spent on the repave.

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California drought bill victory could be short-lived: Sen. Barbara Boxer pledges filibuster as one of her last acts


The water policy measure overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday to build long-term water infrastructure across the Golden State is headed for a showdown with outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer, who plans to mount a filibuster in the Senate on Friday as one of her final acts in Congress.

The overall bill — which Boxer co-authored — authorizes hundreds of water projects across the country, including new infrastructure to fix lead issues in Flint, Mich., and projects connected to the Los Angeles River, Salton Sea and Lake Tahoe. It also includes plans to increase water flowing from the Sacramento Delta to San Joaquin Valley farmers and Southern California.

The California provisions were added to the bill Monday and reflect years of negotiations among Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), California’s 14 Republican lawmakers and a handful of Democrats.

Boxer is vehemently opposed to the added language, called a rider, which she says is an end-run around the Endangered Species Act and its protections for salmon and the nearly extinct delta smelt.

“What’s so ironic for me is it’s my legacy bill that has a horrible rider on it. It’s a miserable feeling because I love the bill and I hate the rider,” she said.

She seems prepared to take her fight into the weekend as the Senate attempts to go home for the year. She hinted with a smile she “may need a lot of time to just explain what this rider does.”

If Boxer objects to the vote being called, procedural rules would allow her to speak for hours and keep senators from leaving for the year.

The bill passed the House 360-61, and representatives headed for the exit soon after. Thirty-six of California’s 53 House members supported it. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Orange) did not vote. The 16 California Democrats who voted against the bill mostly represent the Delta and Bay Area and were upset by such a substantial last-minute policy addition to the bill that was not considered through the normal public committee process.

The bill is expected to be called up for a vote in the Senate sometime Friday or early Saturday morning. House members left for the year after voting Thursday, so even if the Senate opted to gut or amend the California section, it’s likely too late to make changes.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said earlier this week that President Obama does not support some of the California provisions in the bill but will look at the bill in its entirety if it passes before making a decision whether to sign or veto.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) called the California sections a true compromise after numerous failed attempts, noting that even those backing the bill aren’t entirely happy with it.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but this is a great first step and will provide some relief during another tough drought year,” he said.

Described as drought relief, the proposal focuses on environmental restrictions that have at times limited water flow from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to its dry southern neighbors.

At issue is that the measure would allow officials at state and federal water management agencies to exceed the environmental pumping limits to capture more water during storms. Those limits have been a pet peeve of water contractors, including the Westlands Water District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which complained of water supplies “lost to the sea” during last winter’s heavy rains.

Federal biologists have said certain levels of water flowing through the delta are vital for native fish, which have suffered devastating losses during the state’s prolonged drought, and help maintain the quality of the delta’s freshwater supplies. In short, if fish are determined to have enough water, or are not near the pumps, the excess water could be sent to the south.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) characterized it as placing political wants above science to go around federal law.

“When an act of Congress specifically supersedes peer-reviewed biological opinions that are the very mechanism of how the Endangered Species Act gets implemented, that is a grave undermining of the act,” Huffman said.

Asked if her colleagues would have any choice but to support the bill given the large vote margin in the House, Feinstein said, “That’s a good assessment. We’ll have to see.”

Feinstein and Boxer have long disagreed on how to legislatively address the state’s water needs, but for years both have publicly said they wanted to find a bill upon which they could agree. Feinstein’s move adding the language Boxer opposes to a bill the retiring senator spent years finding consensus on has led to tension in the final days of the pair’s 24-year working relationship.

Despite the overwhelming House vote, Huffman is still hopeful Boxer and other senators upset with the California addition (or other portions of the bill) will be able to block it.

“There are linkages and possibilities here that prevent this from being a slam dunk at this point,” Huffman said. “I’m not saying I’m not worried, I am. But, I think there’s still a lot of fight left in those of us who think this is terrible policy and don’t like having it jammed down our throats.”

While ebullient about the vote margin on his side of the building, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) also warned against assuming the bill will pass the Senate.

“We’re all very excited, but we’re going to hold our breath until the president signs it,” he said. “We don’t want to celebrate too soon.”

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Houses passes water infrastructure bill that includes California drought provisions


The U.S House of Representatives on Thursday passed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, a comprehensive water resources infrastructure legislation that includes stipulations to improve California’s water system and alleviate strain to drought-stricken communities throughout the Valley.

The WIIN Act, which passed the House by a vote of 360-61 and is the cause of contention between Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Barbara Boxer, is now slated to go to the Senate for consideration.

The WIIN Act is legislation that invests America’s harbors, locks, dams, flood protection, ports, channels and other water resources infrastructure, with provisions that aim to improve drinking water safety, storage and delivery.

One provision that is included in WIIN is Congressman Jeff Denham’s Save Our Salmon Act, which would effectively remove the fish doubling provision in the 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act for non-native, predatory striped bass in order to protect native salmon and steelhead, as well as reduce nonessential water usage.

“The timing of these drought conditions is critical so our water system can capture and store desperately needed water,” said Denham. “The regulatory flexibility of the provisions will benefit the Valley and allow our local districts to begin protecting our threatened salmon and steelhead from non-native predatory fish and to allow for additional storage at New Melones Reservoir.”

Denham was not alone in voicing his support of the WIIN Act earlier this week as the California Farm Bureau Federation said that the bill would “allow California to take full advantage of coming winter storms.”

“As California faces a potential sixth consecutive drought year, it’s critical for Congress to do what it can to assure we can capture as much water as possible from winter storms, while maintaining protections for the environment,” said CFBF President Paul Wenger. “The WIIN bill offers a balanced solution to help pay for long-overdue water supply, conservation and recycling projects.”

“Senator Feinstein, Representative [Kevin] McCarthy and other California members of Congress have worked hard, in good faith, to produce legislation that will benefit our entire state,” said Wenger. “We’ve watched too often as water from winter storms has flowed uncaptured out to sea. We have to become more sophisticated at operating our water system to store as much water as we can while meeting environmental and other needs. This bill moves us in that direction and deserves congressional support.”

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House helps irrigate Central Valley farms with approval of California water bill


WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved the biggest federal reset of California water use in a generation, setting the stage for easier dam-building, more recycling and potentially happier Central Valley farmers.

By a 360 to 61 that divided state lawmakers, the House approved the drought-inspired California provisions as part of a broader water projects bill that now heads to the Senate. Disappointing environmentalists and some Northern California Democrats, the White House declined to issue a potentially lethal veto threat.

“It is a bill that helps deliver water to our communities,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield. “It will increase pumping. It will increase storage. It will fund more desalination, efficiency, and recycling projects.”

McCarthy and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and their staffs, negotiated the approximately 91-page California package and added it to the politically popular Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. The broader bill authorizes more than $11 billion worth of projects nationwide, ranging from Lake Tahoe restoration to fixing Flint, Michigan’s lead-tainted water.

Feinstein’s long-time colleague, retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, is fighting against the infrastructure legislation she would otherwise support because of the last-minute addition of the California provisions she fears will harm the environment. While Boxer is vehement in her opposition, she appears outnumbered.

“Even our senators do not agree on whether this is best for California,” noted bill opponent Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. “The blind disregard for facts and expert feedback by the sponsors of this measure is downright dangerous.”

Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui of Sacramento added that the California package was a “poison pill,” and she and Thompson joined a number of California Democrats in opposing it though it was attached to flood control or other infrastructure projects they support. Matsui called the package a “poison pill.”

A total of 138 House Democrats nonetheless voted for the bill, including Reps. Jim Costa, D-Fresno. The number of Democrats supporting the broader water infrastructure bill, even if they had doubts about some of the Central Valley provisions, suggested Boxer’s resistance might not be able to drag on for very long.

“It is a good bill for California,” Costa said. “I reject the notion that it’s a poison pill.”

The White House and the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown both effectively stayed out of the fray, as the Obama administration did not issue the traditional statement of administration policy and the California Natural Resources Agency declined to comment on the bill.


House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.

The $558 million California water package approved Thursday has its roots in more ambitious legislation first introduced by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, in May 2011 and subsequently carried forward by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford. These earlier versions included elements, like ending an expensive San Joaquin River restoration program, that didn’t make it into the current bill, but the constant House pushing seemed to pressure the Senate.

“Water scarcity in the Central Valley carries serious consequences, not only for my constituents and our state, but for our entire nation,” Valadao said.

The money in the House bill offers $335 million for proposed California water storage projects that are not explicitly named, but that are intended to include Temperance Flat on the San Joaquin River and Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley. The funding is only a fraction of the total amount needed for the multi-billion dollar projects.

Another big chunk of money would support recycling, reuse or desalination projects in California that are likewise left unnamed in order to avoid a congressional earmark ban.

More controversially, the bill eases limits on moving water south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to help San Joaquin Valley farms like those in the 600,000-acre Westlands Water District. Two of Westlands’ top executives were on Capitol Hill this week for the legislative climax.

The bill does not specify how much more water might flow to California farms, though some supporters estimate the additional deliveries could range between 250,000 and 400,000 acre-feet in a typical year.

“We’ve watched too often as water from winter storms has flowed uncaptured out to sea,” said Paul Wenger, a Stanislaus County grower who serves as president of the California Farm Bureau Federation.

For farmers north of the Delta, the bill directs the Interior Department to make “every reasonable effort” to make full water deliveries to Sacramento Valley irrigation districts.

The bill includes language making it easier to build new Western dams and other water projects, which critics fear could aid Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial twin-tunnels plan to divert water around the Delta. Supporters and opponents, though, differ over the reach of this language, as they do over whether the bill busts through the Endangered Species Act.

At the behest of Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, the bill also ends a goal of doubling the Delta’s striped-bass population, and targets non-native predatory fish in the Stanislaus River for elimination.

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Pentagon seeks immediate relief for hundreds in Guard bonus scandal


The California National Guard discovered widespread fraud and mismanagement in 2010 — much of it related to a single recruiter who was jailed — and struggled to adjudicate thousands of cases. A story in the Los Angeles Times in October detailed the problems and the Guard’s sometimes aggressive efforts to reclaim money from soldiers who enlisted to serve in the wars.

Levine said the vast majority of the 17,000 bonus cases now under review at the Pentagon will also likely be cleared soon.

The department expects to focus on about 1,000 to 2,000 cases for closer investigation during the next six to seven months, meaning soldiers could be called to justify receiving their bonuses, he said. Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the review to be complete by the end of June.

Levine said there will still be instances where soldiers are ordered to repay their bonus money.

“We have a significant number of other cases in this pile of recruitment cases where we had servicemembers make a commitment and receive a bonus on the basis of the commitment and then not fulfill that commitment,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Army National Guard assured House lawmakers that it had taken measures to avoid the fraud and mismanagement that led to the California scandal, and said the problems had not spread to Guard operations in any other states or territories.

“Based upon reviews and assessment of the entire Army National Guard, fraud in the incentives program is not a nationwide problem,” said Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, the director of the Army National Guard, who testified with Levine.

The House hearing Wednesday also allowed some California lawmakers an opportunity to vent about the scandal.

“To presume that the soldier is guilty and therefore responsibly for a decade-old contract that they signed in good faith and put their life on the line to me is a big black mark on our Department of Defense’s record,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif, who is a veteran.

Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, adjutant general of the California National Guard, said he agreed “whole-heartedly” with the congressman.

“We do have a problem where we are going to have to establish trust with our soldiers, their families and with potential recruits,” said Baldwin, who was put in charge in 2011 to fix the bonus problems.

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California National Guard commander takes heat from Congress for forcing soldiers to repay bonuses


Members of Congress assailed the California National Guard commander Wednesday for ordering thousands of soldiers and veterans to repay enlistment bonuses, saying the demands caused military families unnecessary financial distress, harmed recruiting and broke faith with soldiers.

With Maj. Gen. David Baldwin at the witness table, members of the House Armed Services Committee sharply criticized his now-blocked efforts to claw back millions of dollars from about 9,700 California Guard soldiers, many of whom fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We betrayed the trust of these troops, and there’s no excuse for that,” said Rep. Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) at the first congressional hearing on the bonus scandal since Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter ordered a suspension of the California Guard repayment program on Oct. 26.

Recent stories in The Times about the bonus repayment demands — in many cases more than a decade after the money was given — sparked a public outcry that spurred Carter to halt the program and is expected to produce congressional legislation on Thursday.

Some soldiers who got bonus demands were wounded in combat or saw their credit scores ruined by debt, The Times reported.

Baldwin defended the repayment program, which he launched after he was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011. By then audits had found improprieties with thousands of bonuses and other incentives given to California Guard soldiers and officers between 2004 and 2010.

Baldwin said he had little choice but to try to recover the money because he lacked legal authority to waive the debts. The bonuses and other incentives given to each soldier or officer typically ranged from about $15,000 to as much as $50,000.

But he acknowledged that the heavy-handed effort — which sometimes involved garnishing wages, interest penalties and tax liens — had soured relations between California Guard leadership and thousands of its soldiers, most of whom did not know the bonuses they got were improper.

“I agree wholeheartedly that we do have a problem,” Baldwin said. “We’re going to have to reestablish trust with our soldiers and their families and with recruits.”

The full Senate is expected to approve a defense authorization bill Thursday that contains a provision intended to help the soldiers. The House already has approved the measure, so Senate approval would send it to President Obama for his signature.

If approved, the provision will expand Pentagon authority to waive repayments if the soldiers did not know they were getting improper bonuses because of poor record-keeping or other problems in the California Guard.

The provision would also authorize the Pentagon to repay California Guard soldiers who sent back their bonuses in recent years. The Pentagon also would be required to contact credit agencies to inform them that the debts were invalid.

Most of the nearly 10,000 California Guard soldiers sent repayment demands are expected to qualify.

Peter Levine, the Pentagon official charged by Carter with setting up a streamlined appeals process for the soldiers, told lawmakers that he aims to provide blanket debt forgiveness for all but about 1,000 soldiers, who got bonuses for which they were clearly ineligible.

Debts that are more than a decade old, that total $10,000 or less, or are owed by lower-ranking enlisted soldiers who had no way of knowing the bonuses were improper can be “screened out” and forgiven, Levine said.

Using those criteria, the number of cases can be reduced by as much as 90% this month, he said. The other cases will be reviewed individually by the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, he said.

After several lawmakers acknowledged that they had only learned of the long-running bonus problem from recent Times stories, Baldwin conceded he should have pressed Congress harder to take action to forgive the debts.

His aides asked Congress to intervene in 2014 with a provision to allow waiving many of the debts, but dropped the matter after lawmakers balked due to the projected cost.

For the last two years, Baldwin said, the Guard had not sought a congressional fix.

“In hindsight, you’re right, I should have continued to make this a priority,” Baldwin said under questioning by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), who called the repayment effort a “big black mark on our Department of Defense’s record.”

Levine also criticized the California Guard, saying it spent years trying to recoup the bonuses without telling the Pentagon, a task that proved overwhelming.

“What the California Guard discovered was that they didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with all those cases,” Levine said. “They left thousands of cases hanging out there with the threat of recoupment, which added to the unfairness.”

Levine said that senior Pentagon officials were unaware of the lengthy delays that many California soldiers who appealed the debts were having.

“We were not aware of this until we read it in the newspaper, and that’s on us,” he said. “I think that we should have seen this before now, and I don’t know why we didn’t.”

The bonuses were initially given out by California Guard officers under pressure to meet Pentagon demands for troops at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It quickly spiraled into what prosecutors said was massive fraud by some members of the California Guard’s Recruiting Command.

Only one member of Recruiting Command, former Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, was convicted and imprisoned in the case. About 40 other soldiers, including about eight officers, were disciplined with reprimands or early retirement, records show.

Questioned by lawmakers whether Jaffe was a “scapegoat” while officers avoided prosecution, Baldwin said federal and state prosecutors decided whether to bring criminal charges, not his organization.

“I held many, many people responsible for their failure to provide proper oversight,” he said.

Baldwin acknowledged that Jaffe had faced intense pressure from superiors to help meet recruitment targets.

“She was overwhelmed. She was under tremendous pressure to help get the numbers … and had people pressing on her,” he said.

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Legislators move on water


U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on Monday announced they have reached an agreement on comprehensive water resources infrastructure language, the Water Infrastructure Improvements Act for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which should be considered this week on the House floor, and includes critical provisions to improve California’s water system and bring immediate relief to the Valley.

“The timing of these drought provisions is critical so our water system can capture and store desperately needed water,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, who represents the Oakdale-Riverbank-Escalon area in Congress. “The regulatory flexibility of the provisions will benefit the Valley and allow our local districts to begin protecting our threatened salmon and steelhead from non-native predator fish and to allow for additional storage at New Melones Reservoir.”

Among the provisions included are Rep. Denham’s Save Our Salmon Act, a fish predation pilot program on the Stanislaus River, and expanding storage at New Melones reservoir, which passed the House during the 114th Congress.

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California’s water future will change as a result of this bill set for House approval


WASHINGTON – A California water bill set for House approval on Thursday that’s split the state’s two Democratic senators will make it easier for the incoming Trump administration to build new Western dams.

Non-native predatory fish in the Stanislaus River will be test-targeted for elimination. New Melones reservoir storage could expand. Money would flow to water recycling projects in cities such as Sacramento and San Luis Obispo, and to desalination projects like ones proposed for Southern California.

Not least, farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta may get more of the water flowing through Central Valley Project canals, though, precisely how much more is just one of the ambiguities still surrounding the California package.

“While these temporary drought provisions will not solve our water crisis, I am encouraged by their inclusion ... and will continue to fight until a permanent solution is achieved,” Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, said Wednesday.

Some of the ambiguities are an inevitable result of seasonal water supply variations. Others result from aspirational rather than mandatory language. The bill, for instance, directs the Interior Department to make “every reasonable effort” to make full water deliveries to Sacramento Valley irrigation districts.

Lots of litigation could follow.

The approximately 91 pages of often-technical language represent the federal government’s most significant recalibration of California water use in a generation. Like the last big water rewrite, pushed by environmentalists in 1992, supporters are seeking to jam it through in a big bill at the end of Congress over the objections of one of the state’s senators.


Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif.

Underscoring the political sensitivities, the California Natural Resources Agency declined to comment on the wide-ranging legislation.

“I’m trying to get them to support it,” said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, “but I certainly don’t want them to oppose it.”

With lawmakers eager to depart Washington for the Christmas break, the House is set to vote on the California water provisions Thursday morning. The Senate’s timing is trickier to predict.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein primarily negotiated the California water package with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, along with their respective staffs, and they added it to a larger bill called the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. The move caught Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer by surprise, and prompted an explosive response from the retiring lawmaker.

“I will use every tool at my disposal to stop this last-minute poison pill rider,” Boxer declared.

The two long-time colleagues subsequently spoke at a regular Tuesday lunch-time meeting of Senate Democrats, and both addressed the caucus as well about the water issues. Feinstein, though, did not make it to the Senate chamber Wednesday morning for Boxer’s farewell Senate speech.

“I don’t think this is any way to set water policy,” Rep. Jared Huffman, R-San Rafael, said Wednesday. “I think this is very much a cynical power play.”

Huffman joined Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton and eight other House Democrats in a letter to the Obama administration Wednesday urging a presidential veto of the overall bill if the California provisions weren’t removed.

Administration officials, though, stopped well short of a veto threat for the multi-state package that includes high-profile funding to help Flint, Mich., cope with its tainted drinking water. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Tuesday said “we don’t support the kinds of proposals that have been put forward” for California, but also noted the measure will be looked at in its “totality.”

The bill does not name specific California projects for authorization or funding, to avoid a congressional ban on earmarks. Previous versions, though, identified 27 desalination projects and 105 potential recycling and reuse projects that may be eligible for some of the final bill’s $558 million in overall funding.

Potential water storage projects eligible for $335 million of the funding, though likewise left unnamed in the final bill, include Temperance Flat on the San Joaquin River and Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley.

The broader water infrastructure bill does specify some beneficiaries, including the Lake Tahoe restoration program and Indian tribes in Tuolumne and Tulare counties, on whose behalf the federal government will be taking land into trust. Gambling operations will not be permitted on the trust land.

“Like any compromise, I don’t like everything in it, but the net effect is an important step forward in protecting against the devastation of future droughts in California and catastrophic wildfire that threatens Lake Tahoe,” Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, said.


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Denham urges Trump to rescind defining water bill


Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) sent a letter to President-Elect Donald Trump last week, strongly encouraging him to repeal the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Water of the United States," a rule he called both "harmful and flawed."

"The EPA should not be putting restrictions on Valley farmers' use of their property," said Denham. "The people spoke, Congress acted, and the current administration refused to acknowledge their concerns. President-Elect Trump has a real opportunity to support the ag community that feeds America by immediately rescinding this burdensome rule."

WOTUS defines the scope of water protected under the Clean Water Act, which established "basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters." Under CWA, federal and state permitting authorities were created in order to protect navigable waters from pollution. States were also encouraged to protect groundwater and non-navigable intrastate waters.

The letter, which was backed by 28 additional members of Congress, urged immediate action on Trump's part upon taking office to repeal WOTUS, as Denham said it has "thrown the Central Valley's ag community into a state of uncertainty as to how it will be regulated by the federal government."

WOTUS expanded the definition of "navigable waters" in 2015 to small bodies of water such as farm ponds and drainage ditches, making them subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act, regardless of size or continuity of flow. Previously, only interstate waters were under the scope of federal jurisdiction.

In the WOTUS final rule, EPA said agencies clarified the scope of WOTUS in light of statute, science, Supreme Court decisions in U.S. v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Rapanos v. United States, and the agencies' experience and technical expertise. The final rule also took into consideration public comments.

In January, Congress passed a joint resolution that would have nullified WOTUS; however, the repeal was vetoed by President Barack Obama.

"The new WOTUS rule furthers the Administration's desire to ignore the term ‘navigable' and essentially declares jurisdiction over all waters, regardless of their scope and purpose," the letter stated. "The Administration is attempting to unilaterally broaden its jurisdiction which will have serious long-term consequences for the nation's business owners, homeowners, private property owners and manufacturers as well as agriculture and rural economies."

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Op-ed: 21st Century Cures Act significant step toward ensuring that those who need help the most get it


Congress has taken a huge step toward bringing our nation’s laws in line with modern medicine by passing the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes provisions to accelerate delivery of research and innovative treatments in two critical areas for my constituents and millions more Americans: mental health and rare diseases.

Our country has seen a rise in mental health awareness over the last several years, in many ways due to our veterans returning from war, battered and in need of care for wounds that we cannot see. As this quiet epidemic has moved out of the shadows, our responsibility to put in place reforms to support our military service members, as well as others who suffer in silence with mental illness, has grown.

The Central Valley has the highest prevalence of serious mental illness amongst adults in California, making the need for reforms at the federal level of even greater importance to our community. That’s why in 2014 I brought Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) to Tracy for a roundtable discussion with local healthcare providers, law enforcement officials and families about mental health and his bill, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which passed as part of the Cures Act last week. 

As a nation, we’ve reached a critical point where we must do more to implement meaningful mental health reforms. In 2015 alone, the U.S. suffered 43,000 suicides. We have a shortage of 100,000 psychiatric beds and more than 20,000 child and adolescent psychiatrists. Even care that is delivered is often delayed for more than 70 weeks after the initial appearance of the illness. An investigation by a House Oversight Committee found that not a single psychiatrist is employed by the leading federal mental health agency. Further, agencies that receive federal mental health funding don’t even document how these dollars are spent – the government is blindly throwing money at programs that, at minimum, could possibly be beneficial, yet there is no way to know for sure.

The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act represents a significant step toward ensuring that those who need help the most, get it – especially veterans and children. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day, and Rep. Murphy’s bill strengthens programs currently in place with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs so that calls for help to suicide prevention hotlines are always answered. The bill also ensures greater oversight by setting objective outcome measures, creates grant programs, institutes a national study, forms a national awareness campaign and eases access and affordability of mental health services for children. Overwhelming evidence suggests that the majority of serious psychiatric illnesses occurs before the age of 24. Prevention measures, expanded treatment options and public education about mental health are all crucial to reform efforts. Now more than ever, we must give future generations the care, services and resources that too many in the past have not received.

The 21st Century Cures Act also provides funding for rare diseases, helping to deliver treatments to millions of Americans who desperately need them by providing $6.3 billion in new funding to the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration for research and related activities. For these individuals and their families, time is of the essence, and this funding is critical to allocating the necessary resources. This has become an increasingly personal issue as I have come to know CA-10 constituent, Scotty Whitecotton, and his mother Kim. Over the years, Scotty has helped me to understand the impacts of rare diseases, such as Hunter Syndrome, or mucopolysaccharidosis II (MPS II), a genetic disorder that he fights every day. Scotty and Kim have been tireless advocates for the Cures Act, making annual trips to Washington to grow awareness among my colleagues. Their involvement has made an undeniable impact.

As we look forward to the president’s signature on this long-awaited bill, I celebrate alongside Scotty, Kim and the millions of Americans affected by rare diseases and mental illness. With this funding, we have an opportunity to literally change lives. But we also recognize that we have miles to go for the cure, and I will continue to fight alongside them until that cure is delivered.

— Jeff Denham is a local farmer, small businessman, veteran and the U.S. representative for California’s 10th district.

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Contact Information

1730 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone 202-225-4540
Fax 202-225-3402

Congressman Jeff Denham represents the 10th District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives. His district includes all of Stanislaus County and part of San Joaquin County. He was first elected to Congress in 2010, and is currently serving a third term in the 114th Congress.

Rep. Denham’s public service career began with the U.S. Air Force, where he served for 16 years between active duty and reserve status. He fought in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Restore Hope in Iraq and Somalia, respectively.

After graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Rep. Denham worked in the agriculture industry as an almond rancher and entrepreneur. He understands the critical importance of agriculture business in cultivating California’s economy and maintaining employment.

In his work as a California State Senator from 2002-2010, Rep. Denham focused on balancing run-away spending in California and protecting taxpayer dollars from wasteful state projects. He was a proven and courageous leader in the California Senate, where he was the subject of an unsuccessful recall attempt for his refusal to vote on irresponsible budget proposals.

First and foremost, Rep. Denham is a family man. Jeff and Sonia Denham have been married for 21 years, and they have two children, Austin, 18, and Samantha, 16.

In his position as a U.S. Congressman, Rep. Denham remains focused on representing the long-term interests of California’s agricultural businesses, finding a solution to the long struggle over water storage and conveyance, transportation interests in California and fighting for the rights, protections and benefits America’s brave and heroic veterans deserve. He is also an advocate for a top-to-bottom approach to reform for our broken immigration system.

Serving With

Doug LaMalfa


Tom McClintock


Paul Cook


David Valadao


Devin Nunes


Kevin McCarthy


Steve Knight


Ed Royce


Ken Calvert


Mimi Walters


Dana Rohrabacher


Darrell Issa


Duncan Hunter


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