San Joaquin Water Bill: Environmental Groups Square Off Against Agribusiness

admin | March 01, 2012

Mar. 1, 2012 - The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed HR 1837, a bill that would address certain water-related concerns on the San Joaquin River in California's Central Valley.

The measure is supported by agriculture interests, including the Agricultural Retailers Association, Supima Cotton, the Western Plant Health Association, Apricot Producers of California, the California Cattlemen’s Association, the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, the California Poultry Federation, the Almond Hullers and Processors Association, the National Chicken Council, and the Fresno County, Madera County, Kings County, and Merced County Farm Bureaus. The measure is opposed by environmental policy groups, such as American Rivers, Earthjustice, the Environmental Defense Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the Nature Conservancy, as well as wildlife and fishing groups, such as the California Sportfishing Alliance, the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association, the Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Alliance Oregon & Washington, Salmon Water Now, the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association, the Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen's Association, and Water4Fish. The measure has received a veto threat from President Obama.

Members of the California delegation were split on the measure, mostly along party lines. The 19 Republicans were joined by three Democrats in voting 'YES' on the bill. Of the remaining Democrats, 29 voted against the bill while two did not vote.

  • Interest groups that support this bill (Agricultural chemicals (fertilizers & pesticides); Cotton; Farm bureaus; Farm organizations & cooperatives; Farmers, crop unspecified; Livestock; Poultry & eggs; Vegetables, fruits and tree nut) gave 9.2 times as much on average to California House members who voted 'YES' ($26,324) as they gave to California House members who voted 'NO' ($2,875).
  • Interest groups that oppose this bill (Environmental policy; Fisheries & wildlife; Fishing) gave nearly 2 times as much on average to California House members who voted 'NO' ($6,013) as they gave to California House members who voted 'YES' ($3,043).

According to the LA Times, the bill guts a 20-year-old federal law that set aside a large portion of federal irrigation supplies in California for environmental purposes and toughened the terms of federal irrigation contracts. The legislation also rolls back fish protections stemming from a 1994 agreement between the state and federal government and it preempts California water law.

METHODOLOGY: MapLight analysis of reported contributions to congressional campaigns of House members in office on day of vote, from interest groups invested in the vote according to MapLight, July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2011. Contributions data source: