H.R. 5781, California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014

H.R. 5781

California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014

December 8, 2014 (113th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact

Floor Situation

On Monday, December 1, 2014, the House will begin consideration of H.R. 5781, the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014, under a rule.  H.R. 5781 was introduced by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) on December 2, 2014 and was referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.  “The legislation is based on a bill passed by unanimous consent in the Senate and modified by language developed during negotiations between U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office and some House California Republicans.  The negotiations were intended to resolve the difference between the Senate bill (S. 2198) and the House-passed bill (H.R. 3964).”[1]

[1] Summary of H.R. 5781, California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014, House Natural Resources Committee at 1.

Bill Summary

H.R. 5781 is a temporary bill aimed at addressing severe water shortages in California, which have been exacerbated by restrictions in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that limit operations of California’s two largest water projects.  H.R. 5781, which expires on September 30, 2016, generally allows for limited storage of storm water and provides regulatory flexibility to facilitate increased water supply.

Specifically, H.R. 5781 directs the Secretaries of Commerce and the Interior (Secretaries) to authorize the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project “to store more water from current and future storms by capturing high river flows from storm events under certain conditions and for a limited duration, consistent with the [ESA] and other environmental protections under certain conditions.”[2]

H.R. 5781 directs the Secretaries to utilize their emergency authority under existing law “to provide the maximum quantity of water supply possible to [Central Valley Project] agriculture, municipal industrial and refuge service contractors, and to State Water Project contractors,”[3] by approving—as quickly as possible—any project to provide additional water supplies, unless it constitutes a highly inefficient manner of doing so.  The Secretaries must carry out this provision “through measures such as (1) expeditiously issuing permits for the use of temporary barriers or operable gates to improve water quality and water quantity under limited circumstances; (2) expeditiously completing needed reviews to approve water transfer requests associated with voluntary fallowing of non-permanent crops; (3) utilizing a streamlined project elevation and decision process to ensure that final Federal decisions relating to projects that provide additional water supply or address emergency drought conditions are made in a timely manner; (4) implementing turbidity control strategies that allow for increased water deliveries, while avoiding negative long impacts in the long term to federally listed species; (5) while continuing to operate within the range of the currently issued biological opinions for certain listed species, minimizing water supply reductions, unless data indicates that changed operations are necessary to avoid long term impacts to listed species.”[4]

H.R. 5781 protects state water rights, does not allow for redirected adverse impacts to third parties, and does not preempt or modify any existing obligation of the U.S. under Federal Reclamation law, including the Central Valley Project Improvement Act.

[3] Id.
[4] Id. at 1-2.


“Water supply shortages [in California] caused by dry weather have been exacerbated by restrictions imposed under the [ESA] on operations of the State’s two largest water projects.  These water projects provide water for the municipal needs of 27 million Californians and the irrigation of more than 3 million acres of agricultural land that feeds America.  For the first time in history, those entities that receive water from the federal Central Valley Project for irrigation have received a zero allocation.  The effects of having no water have led to: (1) tens of thousands of unemployed workers; (2) unprecedented demand on food banks and other social services; (3) small, disadvantaged towns and cities have run out of water; and (4) homes are without water for cooking, bathing, or any other purposes.[5]

[5] Summary of H.R. 5781, California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014, House Natural Resources Committee.


A CBO cost estimate is not available at this time.

Additional Information

For questions or further information contact the GOP Conference at 5-5107.