Bills to fund canal repairs moving forward

June 11, 2021
Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern
by Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern
A United States Geological Survey staffer inspects damage from subsidence along the Delta-Mendota Canal. CREDIT: USGS website
Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern
Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern

SINKING CANALS

  • Friant-Kern Canal: 152 miles long, brings water from Millerton Lake north of Fresno to farms and towns all the way to Arvin. A 33-mile section from Pixley in Tulare County to Lake Woolloomes near the Kern County border has sunk, reducing the amount of water it can carry by 60%.
  • Delta-Mendota Canal: 116 miles long from Tracy to west of Fresno. It has lost 16% capacity in damaged areas.
  • San Luis Canal: 101 miles long, delivers water to agriculture and towns on the west side of the valley. It runs from the San Luis Reservoir down to the Kettleman City area. It has lost 45% capacity in damaged areas.
  • California Aqueduct (San Joaquin Division): 121 miles long from the San Luis Reservoir to the Tehachapis area. It has lost 57% capacity in damaged areas.

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California’s canals are sinking.

Excessive groundwater pumping has collapsed the land beneath several key canals, crimping their ability to move water. Fixing them will be expensive.

There are two bills moving through the state Legislature and Congress that could provide some funding.

This is the second try for the state bill, Senate Bill 559 by Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger). Her first attempt in 2020, was vetoed by Gov. Newsom, so she is trying again this year with a new version. Meanwhile, Representative Jim Costa (D-Hanford) and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.) introduced S. 1179, the Canal Conveyance Capacity Restoration Act, on April 15. It is also the reincarnation of a 2020 bill which died in Congress.

Together, the bills would authorize $1.6 billion in state and federal funding to fix sagging sections of the California Aqueduct, the Friant-Kern Canal, the Delta-Mendota Canal and the San Luis Canal. That money would only cover one third of the estimated costs for each canal. The rest will have to come from local and other sources.

Neither bill actually contains any money. They both would “authorize” appropriations but the money would have to be set aside for the canals in separate budget processes.

For example, Gov. Newsom allocated $200 million for the canals in his May budget revise, but that money will have to go through the state budget gauntlet before it could actually be allocated. Even if the $200 million makes it through, it’s only a fraction of what Hurtado is seeking in SB 559 – $785 million. Estimates are that fixing the most subsided section of the Friant-Kern Canal alone will be $500 million.

Friant Water Authority, which operates the canal, has already received about $250 million in funding from the federal government, $50 million from canal users and a commitment of at least $120 million from a local groundwater agency. Every bit counts.

“Every time someone is willing to throw in, other people realize it’s a real project,” said Alexandra Biering, government affairs and communications manager for Friant Water Authority.

SB 559 passed the State Senate and was referred to the State Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife on June 3.

Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) was the only “no” vote in the Senate on SB 559.

“I support a comprehensive and holistic approach to deal with subsidence damage and to make the necessary repairs to improve our overall system, rather than bills targeted at a few projects,” said Wieckowski in an email.

The Sierra Club likewise opposes SB 559, saying taxpayers shouldn’t have to fix what ag entities broke thanks to excessive groundwater pumping.

Meanwhile, S. 1179 was referred to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on April 15 and has yet to be heard.

Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern }

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