Friant-Kern Canal is getting a lot of bipartisan love – but no money so far

February 6, 2020
by Lois Henry
Lois Henry

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Politicians of all persuasions have jumped in to fix the Friant-Kern Canal “sag,”  which has severely reduced the canal’s ability to carry a full load of water in recent years.

Congressman TJ Cox (D-Fresno) introduced H.R. 5316 on Friday. It would provide $200 million to fix the canal, which brings water 152 miles from Millerton Lake to farms and towns along the east side of the San Joaquin Valley ending in Kern County.

The sag, caused by groundwater over pumping, is most pronounced near the Pixley area. Subsidence has cut the canal’s capacity by 60 percent. That is especially problematic in big water years, such as last year, when water managers would have been able to bring excess water into their districts to recharge the depleted aquifer.

Instead, the Friant-Kern could only bring a fraction of available water.

Two hundred million is about half what’s needed to fully repair the canal. It’s unclear where the remainder would come from.

Cox’s bill joins a growing number of efforts to fix the canal.

The Trump administration announced earlier last week it was beginning an environmental study of fixing the 33-mile section of the canal. A scoping meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Sequoia National Forest office in Porterville.

And State Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) has said she will try again with SB 559, which would have provided $400 million to fix the canal, in the 2020 California Legislative session.

While there may be political will, support from the public has been lacking.

Proposition 3, a nearly $9 billion catch-all water bond, was defeated in 2018, the first time a water bond had lost at the polls in nearly 30 years. It would have allocated $750 million to the Friant Water Authority, which operates the Friant-Kern Canal. The canal is owned by the Bureau of Reclamation as part of the federal Central Valley Project.

Voters rejected Prop. 3 for a number of reasons, but there was a great deal of opposition to paying for the Friant-Kern Canal fix on behalf of farmers who were perceived as the ones who broke it in the first place. Farmers and water managers countered that the excessive groundwater pumping that caused the subsidence was by growers who don’t get surface water from the Friant system.

Since the Prop. 3 failure, Friant contractors have looked to the federal government for ways to fund a fix and praised Cox’s bill

“This bill would provide additional federal authorization to help restore the conveyance capacity of the Friant-Kern Canal, that is desperately needed to achieve long-term sustainability in the valley,” Jason Phillips, general manager of the Friant Water Authority was quoted in a press release from Cox’s office.

He hoped for quick approval, which would be helpful for area water managers working to comply with California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. SGMA requires that managers find ways to either increase aquifer recharge or reduce demand. Reducing demand could mean fallowing hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland.

So, every drop in the Friant-Kern Canal counts.




SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.


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