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California Water War Spreads to Congress

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A new bill would allow recycling programs to turn more than 7 million gallons of wastewater daily into water for landscaping, golf courses and parks.

Associated Press | October 22, 2009

WASHINGTON — The House approved a seemingly benign water recycling program Thursday for the San Francisco Bay area, but only after Republicans fought to broaden drought relief to California's farm belt.

The bill authorizing the programs passed 241-173, with the brunt of opposition coming from Republicans who took issue with helping the Bay area, home of Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while residents in the San Joaquin Valley bear the brunt of a severe water shortage that has crippled the local economy.

Such extensive focus on a program costing $38 million over five years demonstrates how water has become one of the hottest issues in California politics this year. Similar bills passed the House earlier this year with overwhelming support, but a bill coming from Democratic leaders added a new twist to the debate.

The bill from Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., would allow a series of recycling programs in the Bay area to turn more than 7 million gallons of wastewater daily into water for parks, golf courses and landscaping. Republicans said they weren't opposed to the recycling programs, but that it didn't seem right to help out Miller's congressional district while not taking up more urgent concerns in farming areas a couple of hours drive away.

Miller said Republicans were doing the political equivalent of cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

"If you want to make it more difficult in the valley, then kill all the recycling projects," Miller said.

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