E&E Daily: Dems introduce bill to expand Calif. reservoir; Feinstein stumps for wider drought bill

  • by BPC Staff
  • on April 11, 2014

From E&E Daily


WATER: Dems introduce bill to expand Calif. reservoir; Feinstein stumps for wider drought bill  (Friday, April 11, 2014) Debra Kahn, E&E reporter


Amid California’s continuing drought, House Democrats introduced a bill yesterday to expand a reservoir in the San Francisco Bay Area to supply the region with water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Reps. Jim Costa and George Miller’s bill, H.R. 4456, would more than double the capacity of Los Vaqueros Reservoir, a 160,000 acre-foot storage facility built in response to the state’s last historic drought, in 1977.

“The devastating impacts of this drought throughout California highlight the critical need to increase water storage across the State. Expediting the expansion of Los Vaqueros is a complementary effort to increase water reliability, not just for the nearby region, but for the entire Central Valley Project,” the lawmakers said in a statement.

Other House members have also proposed increasing storage to deal with future droughts. By storing more during wet years, the concept goes, the state will be better insulated against dry years.

Reps. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) introduced a bill last month to build a 1.9-million-acre-foot reservoir in Northern California, a project known as the Sites Reservoir, while Costa has proposed upgrades at three other storage sites.

Los Vaqueros Reservoir is currently at 77 percent capacity, with about 123,000 acre-feet of water. It was last expanded in 2012, from 100,000 acre-feet. The project cost $109 million, including marina and dock upgrades and the purchase of land to mitigate the project’s effects.

The bill would expand the reservoir again to 275,000 acre-feet. The expansion has already been under consideration since 2000. It would benefit water users farther away from the region, who could buy water from the reservoir when their own supplies are reduced.

The reservoir draws water from the delta via two intake pipes that are equipped with fish screens, which would be a less environmentally damaging alternative than the pumps in the south delta that currently feed some water contractors, a spokeswoman for the reservoir said.

The expansion has been pegged at $850 million, she said, and could be paid for by the users, at least in part. “The water district doesn’t need particularly the expansion to meet our customers’ needs, so it would be paid for by the partners coming in,” said Jennifer Allen, a spokeswoman for the Contra Costa Water District, which operates the reservoir.

The district has asked its users to cut their water use 15 percent, starting April 1. More storage would help stave off drought in future years, Allen said. “It’s definitely not a silver bullet, but it’s definitely an important component,” she said.

Feinstein issues call for Republican votes on drought bill Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is continuing to collect votes for her drought bill, which would streamline emergency grants and raise the cap on drought relief programs, as well as potentially ease environmental protections for fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta by maximizing water pumping to farms and cities farther south.

She reintroduced her bill, S. 2016, last week with a broader focus and less emergency funding for California in order to attract Republican support.

But Feinstein is having trouble getting to 60 votes, despite speaking with 25 Republican senators, she said in a statement yesterday.

“Any drought bill will require 60 votes to move through the Senate,” she said. “Since the bill was first introduced in February, my staff has worked around the clock to find five Republicans votes necessary to reach that number. We are very close to 60, but we’re not there yet.”

She cited the risk of rising food prices, 15,000 job losses in the agriculture industry and $7.5 billion in economic losses within California.

“In times of disaster, the Senate has set aside its differences, come together and worked to help the country,” she said. “[P]lease join this effort and help get this bill passed so we can work with the House on a final agreement.”

The House-passed drought bill, H.R. 3964 by Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), would reverse environmental protections for fish in favor of sending more water to farmers in the Central Valley. President Obama issued a veto threat when it passed the House in February.


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