[LA FEATURE]Running Dry

LA FEATURE

Drought-stricken California communities face a third-consecutive dry year with no relief in sight

John Boehner to Visit Rain-Starved Central Valley

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    AP
    House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio is seen in this file image. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    House Speaker John Boehner is scheduled to visit the Central Valley of California on Wednesday, joining three Republican colleagues to propose emergency legislation aimed at drought relief, a congressional aide said Tuesday.

    At the Bakersfield, Calif., stop, Boehner will join Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Rep. David Valadao of Hanford. The lawmakers are expected to announce a bill that seeks to halt the restoration of the San Joaquin River through 2015. Boehner's visit follows Friday's announcement by Gov. Jerry Brown formally declaring California's drought.

    Two other parts of the proposed bill would allow farmers to pump irrigation water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and to form a joint House-Senate committee to tackle long-term water woes.

    The proposed legislation will likely receive pushback. Restoration of the San Joaquin River has caused fierce battles spanning years that have pit farmers in need of irrigation water against groups that wish to bring the salmon runs back to historic levels.

    As the nation's leading farming state, California could be in its worst dry spell in a century, unless significant rain falls within the next two months. The parched weather could also wreak havoc during California's notorious wildfire season.

    The San Joaquin River starts in the Sierra Nevada east of Fresno and collects at the Friant Dam into Millerton Lake. It flows a few miles after the dam but dries up. The river resumes downstream with water from the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers, which each have salmon population. Restoration of the San Joaquin River is estimated to cost $1 billion in federal funds.

    Among the difficulties, some former river bottom has subsided from pumping, and engineers will need to find ways to send the water uphill along its previous route. Farmland may end up flooding.