The Senate early Saturday approved a bill authorizing federal water projects over the objections of the legislation's Democratic author, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who objected to a last-minute rider addressing drought in California's Joaquin Valley.
A handful of West Coast Democrats voted "no" along with Boxer, the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee. Boxer, who is retiring in a few weeks, spent part of Friday protesting the rider on the Senate floor.
"I find myself filibustering my own bill, which is a really bizarre way of ending my career here," the retiring senator said.
The drought language was inserted by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. The provision would allow more water to flow into the drought-stricken Central Valley, where the farm industry has been crippled by a lack of water. Current EPA regulations prevent the water from flowing to the valley in order to protect fisheries.
Democrats opposing the provision said diverting water the valley would dry up the rivers, endangering critical fisheries and harming the fishing industry, particularly for salmon.
The provision aids the agriculture industry, they argued, at the expense of the fishing industry.
"We have no right to put this kind of language in at the last minute and endanger an entire industry," Boxer said.
The issue caused a rare feud between Boxer and Feinstein, who has been trying for years to get a bill passed providing drought relief to the area.
But Boxer and her allies could not draw enough support from their Democratic colleagues to filibuster the bill, which included many attractive provisions. In addition to authorizing critical water projects in every state, the bill authorizes federal funds for Flint, Mich., where the water is contaminated with lead.
Boxer and other Democrats warned that the provision would end up in the courts because endless lawsuits by environmental groups and other stakeholders are guaranteed.
"You are not going to get water for your growers," Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., warned. "You are going to get litigation."