By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
TULARE COUNTY – Normally scrapping a railway in Tulare County would be cause for concern and generate a lot of public comment. But when it comes to California High Speed Rail (HSR), the Tulare County Supervisors didn’t even bother to debate it.
At its May 21 meeting, the Supervisors unanimously approved a letter of support for a federal bill that would repurpose nearly $3.5 billion in federal transportation funding from high speed rail to water projects. The letter was approved on consent, normally relegated for routine items or those that do not require a public hearing, and said the money would be better used to capture and store water for future droughts and agreed that the funding would ensure that rural communities and farmers would have access to its most essential resource, life-sustaining water. The letter argued that the HSR funding could be used to pay for five water projects with the potential to provide 5 million acre-feet of water already advancing through the process under the 2016 Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act.
“For years, we have met with our representatives to find comprehensive solutions for safe drinking water, building the infrastructure needed for our disadvantaged communities, and most recently addressing the impacts that the California State Groundwater Management Act will have on our farmers and agriculture economy,” the letter stated.
The letter was in support of House Resolution 1600, known as the Repurposing Assets to Income Long-Term Water Availability Act and Yield (RAILWAY) Act. Authored by Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), the resolution calls for 90% of the federal transportation funds be repurposed for water storage projects, and the remaining 10% be split between grants for rural communities to reduce nitrate contamination projects and to construct new drinking water wells.
The resolution was introduced on March 7, just two days after the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced it would rescind nearly $929 million in unspent Federal funds made available in 2010. FRA is also exploring all alternatives regarding the return of an additional $2.5 billion in HSR funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“The California high-speed rail project has been inherently flawed from the very beginning – timelines have not been met, ridership projections have been exaggerated, and the budget has ballooned by tens of billions of dollars,” said Congressman McCarthy. “Today’s announcement ensures that we move on from the failed boondoggle and focus on actual solutions that help Californians, like desperately-needed water storage and infrastructure projects. With this decision, I urge Speaker Pelosi and the entire California delegation to help schedule the RAILWAY Act for a vote on the House Floor, so that we can ensure this federal money can come back to California and strengthen our water storage infrastructure.”
State legislators chimed in as well. In an online op-ed, Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) stated, “The high-speed rail project has run off its rails and become a massive waste of taxpayer dollars. When voters were asked to consider this project, it looked a lot different. Now, the project will take longer, will cost more money, and will no longer travel to its original destination. This is not the project voters approved. It is time for California to cancel this big rail fail,” Grove concluded.