Feds seek input on Friant-Kern Canal fixes

Deadline to comment on environmental documents to raise the canal and build a bypass around the sunken section is June 22

SACRAMENTO – Time is running out to comment on a plan to fix subsidence in the Friant-Kern Canal and to fix it before another drought draws from the overdrafted aquifer of the Kaweah River watershed.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the Friant-Kern Canal, is seeking public input on plans to repair a 33-mile stretch of canal between Lindsay and McFarland. This stretch of the canal has lost 60% of its original conveyance capacity due to subsidence—a sinking of the earth from groundwater extraction – which was accelerated during California’s historic drought from 2012-2017. Friant Water Authority, which operates the canal, is working with Reclamation to meet state and federal environmental law requirements for the Friant-Kern Canal Middle Reach Capacity Correction Project.

There are two options to restore water flow through the subsidence zone. The preferred options, called “Canal Enlargement and Realignment,” proposes raising the embankment and liner along 13 miles of the Friant-Kern Canal to allow water to pass over the sunken section while also building a parallel canal along 20 miles of the western bank of the canal to bypass the section. This option would require the bureau to acquire 510 acres of private land and 2.5 million cubic yards of dirt.

The second option, simply called “Canal Enlargement,” would raise the embankment and liner, widen and raise 20 miles of the canal in the subsidence area and install four miles of a bypass canal to the east where water would be pumped through turnouts and road crossings. This option would require USBR to acquire 144 acres of private land and 6 million cubic yards of dirt.

Both options would require the project to modify turnouts, changes to road crossings, changes to check structures, wasteways and siphons at Deer Creek and White River, modification of utilities, acquisition of private land for new right-of-way, the need to borrow material, and environmental commitments and mitigations.

The Friant-Kern Canal delivers water to more than one million acres of highly productive farmland between Fresno and Bakersfield. The diminished capacity in the canal has resulted in up to 300,000 acre-feet of reduced water deliveries in certain water years with effects farmers and communities in the middle reach of the canal (milepost 88 to milepost 121). The Project would restore capacity from the current estimated 1,600 cubic-feet-per-second to the original 4,000 cubic-feet-per-second in the most critical area near the Dear Creek Check Structure (milepost 103).

“Addressing water infrastructure challenges is a top priority for Reclamation and the Friant-Kern Canal fix is front and center. Repairing the capacity of the Friant-Kern Canal is critical to providing reliable water supplies to one of the most agriculturally-productive regions in the nation,” said Ernest Conant, Reclamation regional director.

A draft environmental impact statement/environmental impact report has been prepared to assess the potential environmental effects of the project alternatives. The document has a 45-day comment period concluding on June 22. A public meeting to receive comments was held June 8 but written comments can still be submitted until 5 p.m. on June 22.

The document can be viewed at https://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/nepa_project_details.php?Project_ID=41341. For a CD copy of the document, contact Rain Emerson at 559-262-0335 or [email protected] Submit comments to [email protected] or by mail at Bureau of Reclamation, c/o Rain Emerson, 1243 N Street, Fresno, CA 93721.

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