State releases nearly $30 million to Friant-Kern Canal repairs, holds back $7 million

The California Department of Water Resources hands down millions in light of federal, local funding to fixt the Friant Kern Canal

SACRAMENTO – The Friant-Kern Canal has been in distress for several years thanks to severe drought and now requires millions of dollars in repairs. 

According to a Friant Water Authority (FWA) press release the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced it will throw $30 million dollars in funding to assist with repairs. 

“Through this investment, we are furthering a partnership to restore California’s major water conveyance systems to improve the resiliency of California’s water supply during drought and flood conditions,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “The projects, when completed, will maximize the canal’s capacity to move water efficiently through the system and improve California’s ability to boost and store its water supply.”

Specifically, DWR will release $29.8 million from the already approved $39.2 million in the 2021-2022 state budget.  This money is going to aid phase 1 of the Friant-Kern Canal Middle Reach Capacity Correction Project that will rehabilitate 33 miles of the canal affected by subsidence. The canal has lost more that 60% of its conveyance capacity from subsidence caused from over pumping groundwater, making repairs even more urgent than before.

Alex Biering, communications director for the Friant Water Authority, explained that the state puts a hold on a small portion of the overall grant. The purpose of this is to essentially ensure that the project is running smoothly. In the case of the FWA, and the remaining $9.4 million, $7.4 million goes to a “hold back” while the remainder goes toward administrative costs.

“[The state] wants to make sure that we’re all still pushing towards those goals of all ships rising together. So they are going to keep that and hold it back as an insurance policy until the project is done, or we get some further movement on the other sources of funding,” Biering explained. 

In January 2022, the FWA was able to break ground with the first phase of the project. The Friant-Kern Canal stretches over 100 miles, and supplies water to a million acres of farmland and more than 250,000 Californians. The rehabilitation of this project is no small task. The most impacted area is a damaging 33 miles causing the expected cost of phase 1 to be $292 million.

Several different sources are going to be required to fully fund the project. Under the 2021-22 state budget there is a requirement that funds must come from the local, state and federal levels. Before the state will match any other funds, participants must show proof of funds allocated at the local and federal level.

“We have cobbled together this package of funding and financing that is coming from a lot of different places. There’s funding that is coming from a settlement with Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agence (GSA), there is financing and funding coming from the federal government, there is funding coming from the canal users directly and Friant contractors, but they don’t all arrive in a big chunk. Some of them are going to take a little longer,” Beiring explained.

DWR Deputy Director Executive Advisor Michael Sabbaghian explained that before the state will match any funds, participants must show proof of funds acquired at the local and federal level. 

“Any future funding will be dependent on [Friant Water Authority’s] ability to secure non-State cost share from federal…and local sources. This requirement was applied to the 2021-22 State Budget Act for the first $100 million as well,”Sabbaghian explained.  

Regardless of the partial release of funds, FWA Chief Executive Officer Jason Phillips expressed his gratitude for this funding. He explained that this funding was a large reason why they were able to break ground in January. 

“Our partners at the state of California have invested in the San Joaquin Valley’s future at a critical time, and we are grateful to the Newsom Administration and for DWR’s dedicated efforts to release these funds as quickly as possible in recognition of the urgent need to implement the project,” Phillips said.

These project funds are spread throughout areas such as planning, permitting, design and the actual construction of subsidence rehabilitation projects. The 2021-22 state budget also authorized an additional $100 million for the 2022-23 fiscal year. Along with other requirements, each agency with a funded project will need to investigate the ever present risk of subsidence and analyze ways it can be prevented.

It seems virtually impossible to completely eliminate subsidence. Beiring explained that they will be implementing different ways to create resilience including moving some areas of the canal and working with local agencies to help monitor overpumping.

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