How DC can help fight the drought

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By Dianne Fe­in­stein Dianne Fe­in­stein is the se­nior U.S. sen­a­tor from Cal­i­for­nia.

Last year, Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers over­whelm­ingly ap­proved a $7.5bil­lion bond to up­grade the state’s wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture. This in­vest­ment will help com­bat the ef­fects of cli­mate change, which is only wors­en­ing the drought we face now. But the state can’t stand on its own. The tremen­dous chal­lenge of up­grad­ing our wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture will re­quire fed­eral co­op­er­a­tion. That’s why I plan to in­tro­duce drought leg­is­la­tion soon to lay out the fed­eral role in this long-term ef­fort.

For much of the last year I’ve been work­ing on a lim­ited drought bill that con­cen­trated on op­er­at­ing the fed­eral and state wa­ter projects more ef­fi­ciently while re­main­ing con­sis­tent with en­vi­ron­men­tal laws. Those steps will be a sig­nif­i­cant part of the leg­is­la­tion I pro­pose. How­ever, align­ing fed­eral pol­icy with the state bond is cru­cial, and that means ex­pand­ing the ef­fort to in­clude long-term so­lu­tions such as stor­age, de­sali­na­tion and re­cy­cling.

The fed­eral govern­ment can and must play a sig­nif­i­cant role in pro­pos­als for new and ex­panded reser­voirs to store wa­ter north and south of the Sacra­mento-San Joaquin delta. Most of the en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies nec­es­sary to eval­u­ate these projects have been lan­guish­ing for a decade or more, and they must be com­pleted as quickly as pos­si­ble.

Ex­pand­ing these stor­age fa­cil­i­ties will ben­e­fit not only ur­ban ar­eas, ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and farms, but also fish species that de­pend on the cold-wa­ter sup­plies held in reser­voirs. In ad­di­tion to ex­pe­dit­ing the fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies, there’s also a role for fed­eral dol­lars to lever­age state in­vest­ments.

Wa­ter re­cy­cling and de­sali­na­tion are two other key strate­gies that we must pur­sue. They will help ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties be­come more self-reliant.

For ex­am­ple, the Or­ange County Wa­ter District will soon com­plete an ex­pan­sion of its wa­ter re­use fa­cil­ity to pro­vide more than 100,000 acre-feet of wa­ter each year. Far­ther south, Po­sei­don’s $1-bil­lion Carls­bad de­sali­na­tion plant will soon gen­er­ate enough wa­ter to sup­ply 300,000 San Diego County res­i­dents.

The fed­eral govern­ment has a role to play in sup­port­ing re­search on these tech­nolo­gies — in­clud­ing im­prov­ing the ef­fi­ciency of mem­branes used to fil­ter sea­wa­ter, re­cap­tur­ing en­ergy used in the process and de­vel­op­ing strate­gies to minimize en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects — as well as in­vest­ing in tar­geted projects to part­ner in these ef­forts.

In ad­di­tion to these long-term ef­forts, the bill I’m de­vel­op­ing would help get more wa­ter to ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas where the drought is tak­ing the high­est toll. I’ve worked closely with fed­eral and state agen­cies to de­velop these pro­vi­sions in a way that re­flects ex­ist­ing flex­i­bil­ity within the En­dan­gered Species Act and ap­pli­ca­ble bi­o­log­i­cal opin­ions. The bill will clar­ify how agen­cies can ad­just wa­ter de­liv­er­ies in a drought with­out vi­o­lat­ing ex­ist­ing stan­dards that pro­tect fish pop­u­la­tions.

Crit­ics sug­gest that such flex­i­bil­ity would help only large farms. That is false.

Mov­ing more wa­ter through the Cen­tral Val­ley Project and State Wa­ter Project will help sup­ply wa­ter to mil­lions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans in ur­ban ar­eas, in­clud­ing Sil­i­con Val­ley and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. It will also in­crease wa­ter al­lo­ca­tions for small fam­ily farms in the San Joaquin Val­ley. For ex­am­ple, more than 15,000 small farms served by the Fri­ant Wa­ter Au­thor­ity — with an av­er­age size of just 83 acres — would ben­e­fit.

Cal­i­for­nia agriculture is a $50-bil­lion in­dus­try that em­ploys 3 mil­lion peo­ple. Our state is an in­te­gral part of the na­tion’s food sup­ply. It’s vi­tal that we help keep it run­ning, not just for Cal­i­for­nia but for the coun­try.

The abil­ity to move more wa­ter also has a sig­nif­i­cant en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fit in im­prov­ing sup­plies for Cen­tral Val­ley wildlife refuges and mi­gra­tory bird habi­tat.

Fi­nally, the com­pre­hen­sive wa­ter bill I’m work­ing on will bol­ster pop­u­la­tions of threat­ened and en­dan­gered fish and mi­gra­tory birds, which is not only im­por­tant to their sur­vival but can also help pre­vent pump­ing re­stric­tions that re­duce de­liv­er­ies to com­mu­ni­ties and farms. Cal­i­for­nia has the lead on many longterm habi­tat im­prove­ment projects for these species, but fed­eral agen­cies can take steps now to jump-start restora­tion ef­forts.

For ex­am­ple, fed­eral agen­cies can work with lo­cal wa­ter dis­tricts on the Stanis­laus River to in­ves­ti­gate ways to limit the pop­u­la­tions of preda­tor fish, which con­sume large num­bers of salmon smolts.

Agen­cies can also study mea­sures that help fish pop­u­la­tions re­cover, such as barg­ing salmon smolts through the delta to boost their low sur­vival rates as they mi­grate to the ocean. And fed­eral ef­forts can as­sist the state on near-term habi­tat projects such as cre­at­ing gravel bars for fish and in­fra­struc­ture to con­vey wa­ter to wildlife refuges to ben­e­fit mi­gra­tory birds.

Wa­ter pol­icy has a long, di­vi­sive his­tory in Cal­i­for­nia and the West. Cre­at­ing com­pre­hen­sive leg­is­la­tion that bridges those di­vides is not easy. That’s why I am get­ting in­put from Democrats and Repub­li­cans, farm­ers and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, city lead­ers and wildlife man­agers, and from cit­i­zens up and down the state.

I’m also com­mit­ted to fol­low­ing reg­u­lar or­der, which means that af­ter the bill is in­tro­duced I will seek a pub­lic hear­ing and mem­bers of Congress and Cal­i­for­ni­ans can eval­u­ate it and weigh in on its con­tents.

My goal re­mains con­stant: to draft a bill that ben­e­fits all of Cal­i­for­nia. The drought and our chang­ing wa­ter fu­ture af­fect us all, and we must come to­gether and work to­ward a pos­i­tive so­lu­tion.

Pho­to­graphs by (clock­wise from top left): Getty Im­ages, As­so­ci­ated Press, Getty Im­ages, As­so­ci­ated Press

CLOCK­WISE from top left, the drought has forced of­fi­cials to truck fin­ger­ling salmon to San Pablo Bay; Sacra­mento Val­ley farmer Mike De­Witt has planted 25% less rice than nor­mal be­cause of wa­ter cut­backs; U.S. In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Sally Jewell an­nounces a nearly $50-mil­lion in­vest­ment in wa­ter con­ser­va­tion and re­use in 12 Western states; the parched hills of Porter­ville, where wells have dried up and more than 300 homes are with­out run­ning wa­ter.

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