Move Water Now Act would provide $200 million to repair damage caused by land subsidence
By John Lindt
Sierra 2 the Sea News Service
TULARE COUNTY – The request for federal funding to fix the Friant-Kern Canal got a new voice this month.
Congressman T.J. Cox (D-CA) has introduced new legislation that would provide $200 million in funds to “provide for the restoration of the original carrying capacity of canals impacted by land subsidence, and for other purposes.”
Known as the Move Water Now Act, H.R. 5316 does not specifically name Friant-Kern Canal but does identify the money is to repair a 33-mile section of a canal delivering surface water to a million acres of farmland in Central California. South Valley water manager Dan Vink says the canal is not named in the legislation because of federal rules that don’t allow specific earmarks.
“There is no doubt these funds will be used for the Friant-Kern,” Vink said.
The canal delivers water to over 1 million acres of highly productive farmland and over 250,000 residents, primarily in the cities of Fresno, Orange Cove, Strathmore and Lindsay. Subsidence caused by overdrafting groundwater has reduced the canal’s capacity by 60% of its original capacity when it was built in the 1940s. That equals about 300,000 acre-feet of water per year that does not make it those along the lower third of the 152-mile canal running from Friant Dam near Fresno to Bakersfield. Cox, who represents Fresno and Kings Counties, makes no bones about the notion the funds will be used to fix the Friant Kern.
“Land subsidence has literally strangled most of the flow of water through the Friant-Kern Canal,” Rep. Cox said in a news release. “Because of this, communities aren’t getting the water they pay for and farms aren’t getting the water they need to feed the world. This bill is our promise to tackle this problem and get the canal up to its former conveyance capacity.”
Design work on the project is likely to start early next year. Fixes are slated on approximately 10 miles of the northernmost and southernmost segments of the canal as well as include construction of a new, 23-mile-long bypass channel running east of the existing canal between Lindsay and McFarland. Construction of the project would take up to three years.
The federal canal is run by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), which issued a Notice of Intent to prepare environmental documents to begin repairing the slumping canal. A public scoping meeting is planned for 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 18 to solicit input and will be held at U.S. Forest Service office, 1839 S. Newcomb St. in Porterville.
Jason Phillips, CEO of Friant Water Authority said the bill would provide additional federal authorization to help restore the conveyance capacity of the Friant-Kern Canal, that is desperately needed to achieve long-term sustainability in the valley.
“On behalf of Friant Water Authority, along with the dozens of Friant Division water districts, Eastside communities, and 15,000 farms who rely on the canal’s water deliveries and the groundwater aquifers they support, I want to thank Congressman Cox for introducing legislation that addresses the needs of the valley’s people and ecosystems. We look forward to the quick passage of this important legislation and the effort to secure the federal appropriations needed to complete the project.”
The federal money is given a good chance to be allocated with both Valley Democrats and Republicans including GOP leader McCarthy along with President Donald Trump, all supporting it.
California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) has limited groundwater pumping to reduce land subsidence. But its implementation makes it even more necessary that surface water infrastructure like Friant-Kern Canal be restored to full water conveyance capacity say supporters.
The bill’s $200 million in funding would provide about half of the $400 million needed to repair the canal. The rest of the money would have to come from the state or local sources. In March, a coalition of valley legislators to coauthor Senate Bill 559, which would have provided $400 million in funding for the restoration of the Friant-Kern Canal. The bill stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee in September. State Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), one of the authors of the legislation, said the bill will be reconsidered next year. Vink does not believe it has a strong chance to be signed into law.
“Water supply reliability in the San Joaquin Valley will require significant state, federal and local investment in infrastructure, along with coordinated and balanced approaches to water management to ensure that one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions in the world can continue to provide good jobs and safe, affordable food to all of the United States,” Vink said. “This starts with fixing the Friant Kern Canal, which delivers water to communities and more than 1 million acres of farmland in the Central Valley.”
The bipartisan bill was the most recent attempt to fund the canal’s repairs after Californians voted no on Proposition 3. The $8.9 billion statewide water bond would have provided $750 million specifically to repair subsidence in the Friant-Kern Canal, which delivers surface water to 15,000 small farms and four communities on the Valley’s eastside.
– John Lindt is the publisher of Sierra2theSea.net, an online newspaper covering California’s Central Valley and Central Coast.