Interior chief says California water system outdated
Samantha Young, Capital Press 4/15/09
CORDOVA, Calif. (AP) - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar urged
California on Wednesday to modernize its antiquated water system
while pledging $260 million in federal stimulus money to help fund
a variety of water projects.
He and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took an aerial tour of the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the conduit through which Northern
California water flows to millions of acres of farmland and some
25 million people in the San Francisco Bay area and Southern
The delta has become a highly troubled resource, with state water
pumping, urban and agricultural pollution, and three years of
below-average precipitation wreaking havoc on its habitat and the
state's water supplies.
After the helicopter flyover, Salazar told reporters that
California's massive system of reservoirs, pumps and canals was
outdated, built a half century ago and designed for a population
half the size of today's 37.7 million.
He pledged that the federal government was ready to help
California overhaul its system and deal with its drought.
"It is time to modernize, it is time to make hard choices, and
it's time for the federal government to re-engage in full
partnership with the 21st century water system for the state of
California," he said.
The $260 million is part of $1 billion announced by the Bureau of
Reclamation for water projects intended to create jobs across the
California's share will fund a host of projects, including new
wells for farms and cities, temporary water lines to help feed
orchards and grape vines year round, rock barriers intended to
improve water quality in the delta and fish screens.
An additional $135 million will be available to all states for
grants for water recycling projects.
"By themselves, these investments cannot and will not solve all
the problems we face, but they are a first step," Salazar said
during a news conference at Mather Field, a former Air Force base
in the Sacramento suburb of Rancho Cordova.
Two months ago, Schwarzenegger declared a state emergency because
of California's drought. That order directed state agencies to
provide assistance to drought-affected communities and businesses.
It also called for a statewide conservation campaign.
Three years of lower-than-normal precipitation combined with
federal restrictions on pumping, which are designed to protect a
threatened fish, have led to water cutbacks throughout the state.
The state has said it will deliver only a portion of the water
typically allocated for cities and farms this year. The U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation has said it will not deliver any water this
spring to farms south of the delta.
Such low delivery estimates prompted farmers to leave large swaths
of land unplanted this season. Residents in cities stretching from
Redding in far Northern California to San Diego have been told to
scale back their water use.
On Tuesday, Southern California's regional water wholesaler voted
to tighten deliveries and raise fees for its 26 member agencies,
which supply all or some of the water used by 19 million Southern
An estimated 2,500 people, many of them farmworkers, are in the
midst of a four-day march across California's agricultural
heartland to protest the lack of available water.
On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger reiterated his call to build more
dams and urged state lawmakers to place a water bond on next
"We must work together to fix California's water system for the
sake of our economy and for the sake of our environment also,"
Schwarzenegger said at the news conference.
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and state Senate President Pro Tem
Darrell Steinberg, both Democrats, said lawmakers intended to
craft a comprehensive water bill by the summer.
Schwarzenegger also favors building a canal to pipe river water
around the delta, an idea rejected by voters in 1982. The Interior
Department said $4 million of the stimulus money will go toward a
delta habitat plan that features a possible canal system.
Salazar declined to endorse building new dams or a canal. He did
rule out suspending federal environmental laws, as some members of
California's Republican delegation have suggested in an attempt to
funnel more water farmers.
"That is not the solution here," Salazar said. "The solution that
we're looking at is one that is going to have to be comprehensive
in nature that takes into account the huge variations you're
seeing in water supply."
Environmentalists welcomed the federal government's interest in
California's water problems but said they hoped Salazar has been
briefed on choices other than dams and a canal. They favor
increased conservation measures for urban water users and farms,
as well as policy changes regarding water rights.
"The management of the water system requires much more than
throwing money or pouring concrete on the ground," said Jim
Metropulos, a senior advocate with the Sierra Club.
From Sacramento, Salazar was scheduled to travel to San Francisco
to announce money for earthquake monitoring for the U.S.
Geological Survey. On Thursday, he will lead a public hearing in
San Francisco about offshore oil drilling and alternative energy