WASHINGTON (January 4, 2007) -- Bipartisan legislation was reintroduced in both houses of Congress today authorizing the U.S. Department of the Interior to implement an historic agreement to restore water flows on the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam. The legislation, which was initially introduced on December 6, 2006, did not come to a vote in either house in the last session but was quickly reintroduced today in virtually the same language.
Identical versions of the "San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act" were introduced in the Senate and House by California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Representatives George Radanovich, Grace Napolitano, Dennis Cardoza, Jim Costa and George Miller.
The bills’ sponsorship shows overwhelming bipartisan support for undertaking one of the West’s largest river restoration efforts, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Friant Water Users Authority (FWUA). The legislation represents intent of several California Congressional representatives to see through a Settlement agreement ending an 18-year legal dispute between NRDC, FWUA and the federal government over the Bureau of Reclamation’s operation of Friant Dam near Fresno, California. The Settlement legislation also enjoys strong support from state officials and numerous water districts around the San Joaquin Valley.
In addition to approving river channel and water flow improvements, the reintroduction of salmon and water management opportunities for current water users, as agreed to in the Settlement, the bill authorizes $250 million in new federal appropriations to help pay for the project. Additional funding will come from Friant water user payments and at least $100 million from the Proposition 84 water and parks bond that was approved in November by California voters.
"The effort among several members of Congress to quickly reintroduce this legislation demonstrates their commitment to making river restoration, renewed river flows and associated new water management in the Friant Division a reality," said Ronald D. Jacobsma, Friant Water Users Authority Consulting General Manager."
"It's a great testament to the importance of this project that this legislation is being reintroduced today, on the first day of the 110th Congress, with broad, bipartisan support," said Hal Candee, senior attorney and co-director of NRDC's Western Water Project. "We hope this will be followed by prompt action by the new Congress to approve this historic settlement. Today, restoring the River is one step closer to reality."
Under the proposed legislation, authorization would be given to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation -- which administers the Central Valley Project, Friant Dam and the Friant Division (along the southern San Joaquin Valley’s East Side) -- and other federal agencies to implement the Settlement. That agreement was filed September 13, 2006, in U.S. District Court in Sacramento and was approved on October 23 by U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton. It resolved long and complex litigation brought in 1988. The settling parties included the FWUA and all of its member agencies that were parties to the litigation, the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Commerce, and the plaintiffs, an environmental and fishing coalition headed by NRDC.
The legislation reflects historic San Joaquin River restoration and water management activities detailed in the Settlement as well as third party protections. Along with approving and authorizing the Settlement, the bill includes a number of funding mechanisms. Those include a new $250 million federal appropriation and Friant Division financial support through Friant water users’ Restoration Fund payments under the 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act.
The bill has been expanded from earlier drafts to establish cost-sharing provisions in the wake of approvals by California voters last November of two possible state funding vehicles, Propositions 84 and 1-E. The bill also declares the federal government’s intent to work closely and cooperatively with the State of California.
Authorization is provided to the Secretary of the Interior to design and construct the extensive list of San Joaquin River improvement projects contained within the Settlement, and implement the agreement. Interior would also be authorized to reintroduce California Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon and avoid reductions in water supply for or imposition of costs on third-party water contractors while approving Friant Dam operational changes to restore downstream flows at levels specified in the settlement.
Other sections would authorize Settlement provisions needed to implement its important water management goal. Those provisions would permit programs and activities of water recapture recirculation, reuse, exchanges or transfers to minimize impacts on Friant Division contractors and the 15,000 mostly small family farmers on approximately one million acres of the most productive farmland in the nation in addition to numerous communities served from the Friant-Kern and Madera canals.
Like the Settlement itself, the bill seeks to restore the San Joaquin River so it can again support historic salmon populations, including the southernmost Chinook salmon population in North America. Since Friant Dam became fully operational in the early 1950s, parts of the system have been dry except for flood releases or infrequent operational spills. Salmon are no longer present above the river’s confluence with the Merced River.