Feds allocate $11 million for Friant-Kern Canal fix

Bureau of Reclamation receives $11 million to repair subsidence in canal, $8 million to enlarge Shasta Dam

By Reggie Ellis

TULARE COUNTY – As the east side of the Valley awaits a congressional bill to repair subsidence in the Friant-Kern Canal, the federal government has budgeted enough money for this year to at least get the project started. 

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (USBR), which owns the Friant-Kern Canal, recently announced its Fiscal Year 2020 Distribution of Additional Funding plan detailing how the agency will spend funds appropriated by Congress under the appropriations bill signed by the President in December. The plan includes $11 million for subsidence repair work on the Friant-Kern Canal – which is in addition to the $2.35 million Congress specifically provided for this project – as well as $8 million for design and pre-construction work on the Shasta Dam and Reservoir Enlargement Project.

Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who represents the lower third of the canal whose water deliveries have been almost cut half due to subsidence, applauded the decision. 

“The Friant-Kern Canal delivers critical water to Tulare and Kern Counties, providing invaluable support to many of the farms that grow the food we eat,” McCarthy said. “Restoring capacity of the canal is expected to increase average annual water deliveries by 8,000 acre-feet, while the Shasta Enlargement Project will capture and store an additional 634,000 acre-feet of water during wet years for use during future dry years. These projects will be a huge benefit to our communities, all Californians, and the environment.”

The news comes less than two months after Congressman T.J. Cox (D-CA) introduced 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. The canal is not named in the legislation because of federal rules that don’t allow specific earmarks.

The Friant-Kern 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 sometime this 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 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. 

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.

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