[env-trinity] Feinstein offers sweeping new state water plan
tstokely at att.net
Thu Jul 30 07:38:10 PDT 2015
Feinstein offers sweeping new state water plan
BY CAROLYN LOCHHEAD
How a House-passed bill dealing with the drought compares with legislation introduced Wednesday by California’s senators.HOUSE BILLSets new, higher limits on pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.If native fish populations decline, the bill directs federal agencies to look for causes other than increased pumping.Sets deadlines for federal review of five proposed dams and reservoirs.Strengthens existing system of seniority in determining water rights.SENATE BILLAuthorizes $50 million over five years for desalination plants.Authorizes $600 million for five new dams and reservoirs identified by earlier studies.Identifies 105 recycling projects and authorizes $200 million for funding.Authorizes the federal government to pay farmers to conserve water and return the savings to recharge groundwater.Sets aside $24 million to provide habitat and stream flow to endangered species, $11.5 million to update fish monitoring and $2 million to improve water conveyance to wildlife refuges.Allows higher limits on pumping from the delta, but requires that actions be consistent with the Endangered Species Act.Michael Macor / The ChronicleSen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill includes funds for new dams, desalination plants, water recycling and other projects.WASHINGTON — California Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced a sweeping drought bill Wednesday that takes a much broader approach to the state’s water shortages than her failed effort last year to work almost exclusively with House Republicans to deliver more water to San Joaquin Valley farmers.Feinstein’s new measure is important for one big reason: Feinstein introduced it. The state’s senior senator has made herself an authority on California water policy, and no bill dealing with the state’s drought has much chance of passage without her approval.In contrast to a recently passed House measure that focuses mainly on getting water to valley farms — and rolling back environmental protections to do it — Feinstein included something for almost everyone.The California Emergency Drought Relief Act, co-sponsored by fellow California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, would supply money for desalination plants for coastal cities, new and expanded dams, groundwater-recharge projects, water recycling, and expanded habitat for fish that biologists warn are hurtling toward extinction.The legislation calls for $1.3 billion in new federal spending over the next decade, nearly half of it for dams. It would be part of a larger Western drought bill that Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is seeking to move through the Senate.House billA major challenge is reconciling any Senate bill with the House’s drought legislation. The measure, crafted by San Joaquin Valley Republicans including Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader from Bakersfield, and David Valadao of Hanford (Kings County), aims squarely at delivering more water from the delta to San Joaquin Valley farms, mainly by weakening protections for fish and wildlife.Feinstein acknowledged in an interview the criticism she drew last year when she pushed a short-term drought relief bill through the Senate without public hearings, then spent months in closed-door discussions with House Republicans on a bill much like the version they passed this year.“This has been the most difficult bill that I’ve put together in all my time in the Senate,” Feinstein said. “There are so many different points of view, and it all depends upon who you talk to the kind of response you get.”No secrecyFeinstein noted that her critics last year, including the entire Bay Area congressional delegation, charged that she didn’t vet her bill “with anybody, so this was done in secret.”“It was not done in secret — it was never done in secret. It’s impossible to do it in secret,” Feinstein said. “What they may have meant was, ‘Well, she didn’t give us veto over the bill.’ ”This year, Feinstein incorporated ideas from Bay Area lawmakers, including a bill by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, to send federal money to cities that want to start water-recycling projects.Feinstein said she had combed the state for ideas, consulting every major interest group as well as government policymakers and agencies. “I have talked to more than a dozen environmental groups, I’ve sent my staff out to almost 50 different projects in the state to look at them, I met with the governor and his staff, we met with farm groups,” the senator said.Climate changeThis year, Feinstein said, she wanted to take a longer view that incorporates climate change and the likelihood that California’s droughts will become harsher and more frequent.“It’s evident to me that we can’t depend on the Sierra Nevada snowpack, that this is a disappearing phenomenon, and it’s apparent to me we’re an ocean state,” Feinstein said. “We’ve got water all along one side, and desalination becomes an obvious alternative.”A $1 billion desalination plant under construction in Carlsbad (San Diego County) has caught the attention of both Feinstein and Boxer. It will be the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere and serve more than 110,000 customers in San Diego County.Desalination is an expensive source of water, using vast amounts of electricity whose generation contributes to global warming. Intake valves in the ocean can disturb marine life. But advances in the technology have made it appealing to coastal cities with limited access to the big federal and state projects that deliver water from interior rivers.More for recyclingThe Senate bill also spotlights recycling, which recovers wastewater, and water conservation, both of which Feinstein called an “obvious alternative.”Feinstein would give a big boost to five long-standing dam proposals, including raising Shasta Dam, the state’s largest, and the dam at Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County. Her bill would also help pay for a new dam on the San Joaquin River near Fresno and a new reservoir north of the delta.“It’s pretty obvious to me that if we have a big El Niño, as is being predicted this winter, that we’ve got to catch that water and hold it for the dry years that could come the year after or the year that or the year after that,” Feinstein said.Her legislation also calls for storing more water underground by recharging depleted aquifers, which many see as a promising alternative or complement to dams.“We have to build a new water infrastructure, and groundwater recharge has to get accomplished,” Feinstein said. “Recycling, conservation, desal, all of it.”‘Important step’Advocates on all sides of the water issue said much will hinge on any compromise with House Republicans over their bill.The Westlands Water District, which represents large farms in the western San Joaquin Valley, issued a statement calling the Senate bill “an important step” toward enactment of new law.Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who introduced his own big drought bill this year, called Feinstein’s legislation an improvement over last year’s version. “I can tell that Sen. Feinstein has done a lot of work to include good ideas on a broader range of water strategies,” Huffman said.But Huffman also said he worried about a provision that would give state and federal water managers “maximum flexibility” in making deliveries to farms and cities, at the expense of environmental protections.“I am fearful that in order for her bill to move forward, it would have to incorporate large portions of some very destructive and terrible ideas the Republicans are pushing,” Huffman said.Carolyn Lochhead is The San Francisco Chronicle’s Washington correspondent. E-mail: clochhead at sfchronicle.comRUNNING DRY Throughout 2015, The Chronicle will report on water growing scarce in California. Find more coverage at www.sfchronicle.com/drought.
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