More funds may flow to Friant-Kern Canal fix

Reggie Ellis

Department of Interior files $71 million request for preconstruction funding to repair subsidence in canal

TULARE COUNTY – More federal funds may be flowing to fix the Friant-Kern Canal.

On June 22, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) sent a letter to Congress requesting $134 million for water storage projects be funded through the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. More than half of the funding, $71 million, was requested for preconstruction and construction of the Friant-Kern Canal Capacity Correction project.

In the letter, Timothy Petty, assistant secretary for Water and Science with the DOI, said $1.9 million would complete an environmental impact survey, develop a biological assessment and establish an agreement to preserve historic sites; $2.3 million would fund preconstruction activities including land acquisition document development, land surveys, geologic oversight, engineering oversight, and project management; and $66.8 million for an initial award of funding for construction.

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. Restoring the canal’s capacity would increase annual average surface water deliveries by 8,000 acre-feet.

In order for surface water storage infrastructure projects to be funded under Section 4007 of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, the DOI must send Congress a letter requesting project funding by name and amount. Congress then must include these projects in the annual Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act in order to fund these projects.

Representatives Kevin McCarthy (CA-23), Ken Calvert (CA-42), Paul Cook (CA-08), Mike Garcia (CA-25), Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Tom McClintock (CA-04), and Devin Nunes (CA-22) issued the following statement following the hundred million dollar request: “Water is the lifeblood that supports California’s families, small businesses, and agricultural producers. However, California’s last major reservoir was built over 40 years ago despite the state’s population doubling since then. This is simply not sustainable, and it’s clearer now more than ever that additional surface water storage in the state is necessary to maintaining our way of life.”

The DOI sent a similar letter in February 2019 also requesting $134 million in water storage projects. That request included $2.35 million for a feasibility study and Environmental Compliance for the Friant-Kern Canal project.

Congress funded almost all of these projects in the Fiscal Year 2020 Energy and Water appropriations bill, which was included in Public Law 116-94. However, Congressional Democrats blocked the requested funds for the Shasta Reservoir Enlargement Project, which is almost ready for construction.

The statement by California GOP delegation hailed President Trump, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, and Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman for prioritize building new and expanding existing surface water storage facilities in California to help the state become drought resilient. They also called on House Democrats from California to approve the funding requests.

“We call on California House Democrats to put politics aside and ensure that the very people they were elected to represent have access to water.”

One local Democrat has a plan to come up with much of the additional $300 million needed to complete the project. Congressman T.J. Cox (CA-) has 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 rest of the money would have to come from the state or local sources. Some of the money could come from a possible deal between Friant Water Authority, which operates the canal, and local irrigation districts whose farmers will continue to pump water out of the ground in dry years. The entities are currently in negotiations on an agreed sum paid as mitigation for subsidence.

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