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GOP Congressman On Drought: Prioritize People Over Fish

While California struggles to find relief from the effects of its drought, the U.S. Senate will soon consider a plan, passed by House Republicans in July, to get more water to farmers in the Golden State.

The Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015 calls for the construction of new dams and for increasing the capacity of existing dams.

Republican Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah, who is also chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, is a proponent of the bill. His op-ed “ Resurrecting ‘Eureka’ in California” appeared in a recent issue of the National Review.

Rep. Bishop talks with  Here & Now‘s Robin Young about why he believes environmentalists are misguided in their efforts to protect endangered fish instead of directing more water to people.

Interview Highlights: Rep. Rob Bishop

What do you mean when you say the ‘Eureka’ moment is gone?

“I think that was a slogan that the state actually has officially. It meant that California had the attitude at the time that they could solve every problem and they could make the future better. It is now a very inwardly and backwardly looking approach to situations and we’re trying to say ‘OK, now’s the time to look at things anew and let’s let California move forward.’ And we’re doing it in this era in which they really are having a drought that has been exacerbated by man-made decisions, with a two-fold approach. One is dealing with the immediacy of the drought right now and saying ‘Look, we will prioritize and people are more significant than fish and property rights will be respected.’ But also, you’ve got to plan for the future. This is going to happen again. They may have some wet cycles, they’re going to have dry cycles again, so you have to plan by looking forward and building the capacity to catch the water when it’s there. That means new dams, or if no new dams are possible, at least increasing the existing capacity of dams so that you stop the water and you have it when you need it. So it’s a two-fold approach – one for the immediate issue, one for the long-term approach – and I think California, if they’re looking forward, that’s where they should be going.”

On those who say the water is necessary for fish and their ecosystems

“Well, you also have the problem with all those people who are living – many of them second and first generations Americans – who are also having the problem of how do you survive in this particular situation. So I think what these people are saying who are making that argument is simply a false dichotomy. You don’t have to have one or the other. You can actually have both, but you put the priority on human beings and people. Obviously, the water diversions we’ve been doing right now are not helping the fish. So it’s time to rethink and actually come up with something that is workable, not just simply something that meets with a dogma and pragmatism of the past. You’re not going to solve the problems of the future by tying your hands to a situation and ideas that are in the past and have failed.”

On former Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbit, questioning the benefit of reservoirs in the desert and recently talking about taking out Glen Canyon Dam at the base of Lake Powell because of evaporation

“Was he on something when he did that? That is the most preposterous proposal I have heard from anyone – even somebody who is, you know, getting on in age. You don’t make that kind of proposal seriously. Look, we have not had a new dam since 1979, and the issue is, if you’re going to look forward into the future, you’ve got to maintain the water when you get it. You’ve got to store it somewhere. I don’t care if you want to put a lid on it or you pawn it underground, but somehow you’ve got to store it. And what’s happening right now is that no one is storing the stuff – that’s the future.”

On trying to find a compromise with California Senator Dianne Feinstein

“It has to be with the premise – you’ve got to realize, or they have got to realize, the Senate’s got to realize – that what we have been doing in the past is not working. And I like Senator Feinstein because she has the ability of being practical. And this is one of those issues where you’re going to have to come with some practical results because what we’re doing is not working and we’re making it a bad situation worse because of it. So I think at the end of the day she’s going to be very good and very instrumental in coming up with a workable solution. But what the House has proposed over there is a darn good bill, and I’m sure if she will take that as the base and go forward, we’ll actually do something positive.”


  • Rob Bishop, congressman representing Utah’s 1st district, and chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

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