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Water system to get federal stimulus funds

Issue Date: April 22, 2009 by Kate Campbell Assistant Editor Ag Alert/California Farm Bureau Federation

The state's sagging water infrastructure will get a boost from the $260 million in federal stimulus funds that target a number of projects important to California agriculture. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, flanked by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state and federal officials, said the current drought is a "stark reminder that it's time to modernize California's water infrastructure."

He said there will be some hard choices ahead, but "it's time for the federal government to re-engage in full partnership to (build) a 21st-century water system for California."

The funding assistance, which comes as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, was announced last week in Rancho Cordova after officials took an aerial tour of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The tour included a discussion of challenges California faces because of its inadequate water system.

"The human suffering here (due to drought and judicial decisions) is all too real," Salazar said. "Farmers are not able to plant. Workers in many communities and counties with unemployment rates of 30 and 40 percent are also now without jobs because there are no crops to harvest and schools are closing as families move away."

Schwarzenegger told a press conference after the tour, "California's water system is in crisis, and our future economic growth and prosperity depends on a water system that provides clean, reliable and sustainable water to our people, our farms and our businesses.

"These recovery act economic stimulus funds will create jobs and provide critical drought relief, helping to shield our water-dependent economy from disaster."

He said California can't fix its broken water system without federal partners and that the state's environment, its economy and its future is at risk.

"We welcome the federal government's commitment of funds to help California with some near-term projects," said Chris Scheuring, California Farm Bureau Federation Natural Resources and Environmental Division managing counsel. "Modernization of our water storage and delivery infrastructure has been on the back burner for far too long and now we're all paying the price.

"We hope the secretary's visit and funding announcement further focuses Californians on the need for a more robust and comprehensive investment in our water infrastructure to benefit all of California, including agriculture, urban areas and the environment."

The new recovery act funding includes $109.8 million to build a screened pumping plant at the Red Bluff Diversion Dam. The new structure is designed to help protect sturgeon and migrating salmon populations, while delivering water to agricultural users who need to irrigate about 150,000 acres of crops, much of them permanent orchards.

The Tehama Colusa Canal's operating procedures have been modified to meet environmental requirements, leaving many farms and ranches without adequate surface water supplies.

"This project will create and protect more than 10,000 jobs while also ensuring healthy and sustainable fish populations," said Ken LaGrande, chairman of the Tehama Colusa Canal Authority, which delivers irrigation water from the Sacramento River to produce more than $250 million worth of food crops.

Other projects slated for funding include:

  • $40 million for immediate emergency drought relief in the West, including installation of groundwater wells to boost water supplies to agricultural and urban contractors, facilitation of federal water deliveries to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation contractors through water transfers and exchanges, and installation of rock barriers in the delta to meet water quality standards during low flows.
  • $22.3 million to address dam safety concerns at the Folsom Dam near Sacramento, which is currently among the highest risk dams in the country for public safety.
  • $20 million for the Contra Costa Canal to protect water supplies for 500,000 Californians and to build fish screens to restore winter-run chinook salmon and endangered delta smelt.
  • $4.5 million to restore the Trinity River and honor the federal government's responsibility to the Native American tribes in the region.
  • $26 million for Battle Creek salmon and steelhead restoration projects, which will help restore fisheries that support thousands of jobs in Northern California.
  • $4 million to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan for conveyance systems to move Central Valley Project and State Water Project water, habitat restoration and adaptive management.
  • $4 million to broaden scientific knowledge of Klamath River sedimentation for future management decision-making.
  • $20.7 million in smaller water infrastructure and related projects across California.

In February, Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency due to drought conditions statewide and ordered immediate action to manage the crisis. In the proclamation, the governor exerted his executive authority to direct all state government agencies to use their resources in response to the emergency, implement a state emergency plan and provide assistance for people, communities and businesses impacted by the drought.

The governor's office reported that California recently sold $733 million in bonds to fund drought, flood control and water management projects, and that the state is preparing for another bond sale of $400 million for additional water and drought response.

"The drought is a stark reminder that California's water system, much of it built a half-century ago for a population that is half as large as it is today, has reached its limits," Salazar said during his remarks to the press.

"It's time to modernize. It's time to make hard choices. And it's time for the federal government to re-engage in full partnership ... with the state of California."

Meanwhile, last week Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be sending $84.8 million to state and local governments to improve water quality, increase water supply, decrease soil erosion and improve fish and wildlife habitat in rural communities as part of the recovery act.

The funds will be used to develop conservation measures such as planting vegetative cover and creating shallow water ponds to improve wildlife habitat, improving irrigation efficiency and conserving water, installing filter strips and soil erosion control practices, flood-proofing homes and enhancing stream corridor and flood plain function, as well as constructing small flood control dams.

In California, $10.3 million will go to improvement projects on Stemple Creek, a federally designated "impaired" stream that flows through Sonoma and Marin counties, and Lower Silver Creek, which flows through the city of San Jose and is prone to flooding.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item. Top

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