Feds approve $5M to begin repairs on Friant-Kern Canal

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation completes environmental process to repair subsidence in 33-mile stretch of canal between Lindsay and McFarland

SACRAMENTO – As a parting gift to the Central Valley, the Trump Administration authorized nearly $5 million to study and begin pre-construction work on repairing the Friant-Kern Canal.

On Nov. 4, the Bureau of Reclamation signed the Record of Decision giving environmental clearance to repair a 33-mile stretch of the canal between Lindsay and McFarland. The section of the canal has lost over half of its original capacity to convey water due to subsidence—a sinking of the earth from groundwater extraction. The repairs will eventually restore full water delivery to over one million acres of farmland and 250,000 residents, including the communities of Lindsay, Strathmore and Orange Cove.

“Since day one, the Trump Administration directed Reclamation to modernize infrastructure to ensure water reliability for California’s farms and communities,” Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said. “I am delighted Reclamation reached another of the Administration’s critical milestones for the San Joaquin Valley and look forward to seeing shovels in the ground in the near future.”

Signed into law in 2016, the bipartisan Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, championed by Valley Republican Congressmen Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) and Devin Nunes (CA-22), and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), created a process by which water infrastructure projects, like the Friant-Kern Canal Project, can be authorized by Congress and provided federal funds of up to 50% of total project costs.

“From repairing the Friant-Kern Canal to issuing new updated, science-based regulations to bring our communities more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the President and his teams at the Interior Department and Bureau of Reclamation have navigated complicated California water policy to secure multiple achievements in order to help Californians get the water they contract and pay for,” McCarthy said.

Reclamation published the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report for the Friant-Kern Canal Middle Reach Capacity Correction Project (FKC Project) in September. Under federal law, Reclamation was required to wait at least 30 days before signing the ROD, which formally selects the preferred alternative and completes the required environmental reviews of the FKC Project. The preferred option, 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. Reclamation estimates the Friant-Kern Canal Middle Reach Capacity Correction Project will cost $500,000,000, which will be financed through a combination of federal and non-federal funds.

McCarthy and Nunes said the project was a major priority for the Trump Administration. It was part of Trump’s Presidential Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West on Oct. 19, 2018 and another Presidential Memorandum on Developing and Delivering More Water Supplies in California while visiting Bakersfield on Feb. 19, 2020.

“For the first time in decades administration, the federal government has provided the Valley steadfast support against the radical environmentalists’ crusade against agriculture,” Nunes said. “Today’s decision to advance this crucial infrastructure project—the Friant-Kern Canal restoration—is yet another historic victory for the Central Valley.”

In 2017, the Friant Water Authority discovered significant subsidence (up to two feet in some areas) along 33 miles of the Friant-Kern Canal in Tulare and Kern Counties. The subsidence has reduced the canal’s capacity to deliver water by 60% to the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District, Delano-Earlimart Irrigation District, Kern Tulare Water District, Sausalito Irrigation District, Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District, South San Joaquin Municipal Utility District, Tea Pot Dome Water District, and Terra Bella Irrigation District.

In 2017, one of the wettest years in recent history, 300,000 acre-feet of water could not be delivered through the Friant-Kern Canal to those who contract and pay for it due to subsidence.

“Since 2017, Friant Water Authority has been working in lockstep with the Bureau of Reclamation to assess how much subsidence has diminished the Friant-Kern Canal’s capacity and how it can be fixed to benefit the communities of the southern San Joaquin Valley,” Friant Water Authority CEO Jason Philips said. “Signing of the ROD affirms the commitment of our federal partners to seeing this project through.”

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).

“Without repairing the Friant-Kern Canal, life as we know it in the San Joaquin Valley will change dramatically,” Porterville Irrigation District President Eric Borba said. “The southern San Joaquin Valley is the top agricultural region in the United States, and our communities will only continue to thrive with federal and local leadership on investments that achieve long-term sustainability, like repairing the Friant-Kern Canal. Today moves us closer to that future.”

The California Farm Bureau Federation noted that not doing the project would amount to the loss of 150,000 acre per year, which was noted in the project’s “No Action” alternative to the project. The no action plan stated the canal would lose another 6% of its capacity beginning in 2025, when an additional 67,000 acre feet per year is taken as part of the San Joaquin River restoration, and another 10% in capacity by 2025, when the canal is expected to sink another three feet due to subsidence. There are even estimates the canal could sink another nine feet by 2070 if the subsidence is not addressed.

“The final environmental hurdle has been cleared for the Friant-Kern Canal repair project,” Tulare County Farm Bureau President John C. Guthrie said. “As we all know, water is the engine that drives the San Joaquin Valley and it’s availability affects all residents. Our water concerns continue, but this is a refreshing step in the right direction.”

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