Congress presented an early Christmas present that will go a long ways to providing much needed repairs for the Friant-Kern Canal.
Congress signed off on funding for the repair work to be done locally on the 33-mile stretch of the canal. The stretch is from Avenue 208 between Strathmore and Lindsay to north Kern County.
Included in the 2021 appropriations spending bill for government programs approved by Congress on Monday night, $206 million was included for the repairs of the local 33-mile stretch of the Friant-Kern Canal known as its Middle Reach. Construction on the project is expected to begin early next year.
The project is known as the Middle Reach Capacity Correction project. It's estimated the entire cost of the project will be $500 million.
But the $206 million will go a long ways to fully restoring the canal's capability if delivering water known as conveyance. The canal's conveyance capacity has been reduced by 60 percent due to its decreasing water level known as subsidence.
The subsidence has been caused by over pumping of groundwater. The canal delivers water used to recharge overdrafted groundwater basins, which is critical in the area's effort to meet the requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act which requires the use of groundwater to be significantly reduced by 2040. So the repairs of the canal will go a long ways in the effort to meeting the requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
Originally the Department of the Interior requested just $71 million in project funding, which is authorized under the Water Infrastructure Investments for the Nation Act of 2016, known as the WIIN Act as part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s 2021 recommended projects. But then early this month the Department of Interior requested another $135 million, raising the amount of funding for the Friant-Kern Canal repairs to $206 million.
State Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) has been among numerous Republican and Democratic legislators on the state and federal level who have introduced legislation to fund the Friant-Kern Canal repairs.
“I’m thrilled that Republicans and Democrats — led by the persistent Dianne Feinstein — pulled together to recognize the strategic importance of the Central Valley to our Nation’s food supply and economy,” Hurtado said. This is great news for not only the Central Valley farms that feed the world, but also our hardworking farmworker families who power this economy and who deserve the clean drinking water that will come as result of this investment.”
Hurtado introduced Senate Bill 559 that would have provided $400 million to restore the Friant-Kern Canal to its designed conveyance capacity. Hurtado said she plans to reintroduce legislation on the state level that would also provide funding for Friant-Kern repairs.
Hurtado's bill was passed in the recently completed state legislative session but it lacked teeth as the funding was taken out of the bill. The bill was amended to require the California Department of Water Resources to report on a proposal for the state to pay for a share of the Friant-Kern repair costs.
And Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill as he wants legislation that includes the State Water Project's goals to meet the state's water needs as a whole.
But California still did well in the appropriations bill passed by Congress as it provides $1 billion to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation for the state's water infrastructure.
“Modernizing our water infrastructure is one of the most important investments we can make in California’s future,” Feinstein said. “We know climate change is real and that it’s having tangible effects now.
“We see it in wildfires every year, and we see it in the dry weather and droughts that plague us. We have to do more to save water from the wet years to use in the dry years, and this bill moves us toward that goal. It also makes critical investments in dam safety and climate change research, and I’m proud to support it.”