As she promised, State Senator Melissa Hurtado has reintroduced legislation that would provide fund to improve California's water infrastructure, including the Friant-Kern Canal.
On Friday, Hurtado, a Democrat from Sanger whose district includes Porterville, introduced the State Water Resiliency Act of 2021 that would provide $785 million to restore the ability of infrastructure such as the Friant-Kern Canal to deliver water at their capacity.
The bill would also go to fund other infrastructure such as the Delta-Mendota Canal, San Luis Canal and California Aqueduct. Along with the Friant-Kern Canal they are the main sources of water deliver for the state.
The bill — Senate Bill 559 — would establish a 10-year fund to restore the water delivery capacity of the canals that would be provided to the two major water sources in the state — The State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.
Hurtado had previously introduced a bill that proposed $400 million to repair the Friant-Kern Canal. But that bill has basically been “watered down” and stripped of its funding as Govern Gavin Newsom wants funding to be done more on a state level rather than just for individual projects. So Hurtado has now introduced Senate Bill 559. The bill would also fund repairs for roads and bridges.
“An investment made in the Central Valley and California’s water infrastructure is an investment made for the nation and all Californians,” Hurtado said. “This investment is critical for our country’s food supply chain, public health and ultimately the livelihoods of our farmworkers and families in rural communities. Restoring this infrastructure is essential to withstanding the long-lasting impacts of climate change while delivering clean, reliable, affordable water for hundreds of disadvantaged communities across California.”
Hurtado has basically rewritten Senate Bill 559 as it was originally the bill proposing $400 million in funding for repairing the Friant-Kern Canal. The bill was amended to require the California Department of Water Resources to report on a proposal for the state to pay a share of the cost to fix the canal.
The proposal was approved by the Legislature on a bipartisan basis, but ultimately vetoed by Newsom. In his veto message, Hurtado said Newsom recognized the need for added infrastructure repair to California’s major canal systems but called for “funding that provides water supply and conveyance for the entirety of the state, not one project at a time.”
So Hurtado rewrote SB 559 to respond to Newsom's veto.
This year’s SB 559 responds to the Governor’s veto, and would bring clean water to urban and rural communities throughout California. For example, residents and communities in Kings County rely heavily on the State Water Project (SWP) for clean, affordable drinking water.
“Thank you Senator Hurtado for your unwavering support of critical water infrastructure that transports the lifeblood of our region,” said Craig Pedersen, Chair of the Kings County Board of Supervisors. “This critical issue has been bypassed for far too long. SB 559 will provide vital funding to ensure our communities, businesses and more importantly our children will have the opportunity to live, work and raise their families in the place we call home!”
Parts of the State Water Project and Central Valley Project infrastructure have lost anywhere between 15-60 percent of their ability to deliver water due to declining water levels known as subsidence caused by the overpumping of groundwater. This has resulted in an additional $15-30 million per year in higher operational and power costs, damaging infrastructure and threatening water supply for millions of people, farms and businesses, Hurtado stated.
“Let’s face it, our climate is changing,” said Jennifer Pierre, General Manager of the State Water Contractors. “As we seek to increase our resiliency to climate change, restoring the capacity of California’s water conveyance systems will help to secure our state’s limited water resources, both now and into the future.”
Repairs to the state's water infrastructure has already begun and repairs to a 33-mile stretch of the Friant-Kern Canal from between Lindsay and Strathmore to north Kern County are set to begin soon. But Hurtado stated all the repairs the state need can be completed through additional funding from the federal government, local water agencies and the state.
“We applaud Senator Hurtado for introducing SB 559,” said Federico Barajas, Executive Director of the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority. “This bill will directly benefit nearly 3 million Californians who receive water from the Delta Mendota Canal, 1.2 million acres of irrigated agriculture in the San Joaquin, Santa Clara and San Benito Valleys, and nearly 200,000 acres of wetlands important to at-risk species, migratory waterfowl and the Pacific Flyway.”
“Governor Newsom emphasized in his veto message for SB 559 last year that he wanted California’s major water conveyance facilities to be looked at holistically as the state considers upgrading its water infrastructure to address the future challenges we face,” said Jason Phillips, CEO of the Friant Water Authority, which oversees the Friant-Kern Canal. “Senator Hurtado's bill answers this request by focusing on investments in not only the Friant-Kern Canal, but three other major water conveyance facilities that are critically important for achieving state policy objectives for groundwater sustainability and clean drinking water.”
Hurtado said SB 559 would:
· Provide affordable, clean water to at least 31 million people in the state, including approximately 1.25 million people living in disadvantaged communities served by the CVP and 3/4 of all disadvantaged communities that receive some or all of their water from the SWP.
· Irrigate nearly 2.5 million acres of farmland that receive water from the CVP and more than 750,000 acres of farmland that receive water from the SWP.
· Maintain the state’s $3-trillion-dollar economy, protect thousands of jobs annually and create hundreds of new state jobs each year.
· Support critical habitat and ecosystem restoration efforts already underway to protect California’s threatened and endangered species.
Hurtado also said the bill would decrease the state's reliance on the Delta River for water, which has always created a battle between evironmentalists and the agricultural industry on how that water supply should be used.
“The SWP and CVP are the backbone of our state’s water delivery infrastructure that must be maintained for future generations,” Hurtado said. “But, despite the system’s significance, it has become easy to not fully appreciate the momentous work being done behind the scenes every day to keep water flowing to California’s agricultural economy, business community and residents. SB 559 will provide the funds needed to support that work, so that Californians can continue to rely on our state’s water delivery infrastructure to run their homes, farms and businesses, now and for years to come.”
Another source of funding to complete needed Friant-Kern repairs will come from an agreement reached between the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency and the Friant Water Authority. ETGSA will provide anywhere from $125 to $200 million to the Friant Water Authority for damage done to the canal by overpumping of groundwater.