Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced the Restoration of Essential Conveyance Act, a bill to authorize $800 million in federal funding to repair critical canals in the San Joaquin Valley damaged by land sinking from overpumping of groundwater, known as subsidence, and for environmental restoration.
If the canals are not restored to their original capacity, 20 percent of the farmland – approximately 1 million acres – might have to be retired in a region that produces $36 billion in crops annually, including a third of the nation’s produce.
Representatives Jim Costa and TJ Cox (both D-Calif.) have introduced similar legislation in the House.
“We have to find better ways to use the water we have,” said Senator Feinstein. “Restoring the San Joaquin Valley’s canals is one of the most efficient ways to improve the sustainability of California’s water supply. It would allow us to capture more winter storm floodwaters and use that extra water to offset necessary reductions in groundwater pumping. This bill would give our farmers a fighting chance.”
Decades of overpumping groundwater has caused land beneath the canals to sink by more than 20 feet in some areas. Damage caused by this subsidence has caused the valley’s canals to lose up to 60 percent of their capacity.
Without new water sources, farmers could be forced to retire as much as one-sixth of the valley’s farmland to meet reductions in groundwater pumping required by California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. A coalition of water users known as the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley estimates that as many as 85,000 jobs could be lost statewide if that farmland is fallowed.
Restoring canal capacity would allow farmers to offset reductions in groundwater pumping by capturing more water from winter storms and use it for groundwater recharge projects.
The bill would authorize $800 million for the federal cost-share of three major canal repair projects and a major habitat restoration project:
$200 million for California Aqueduct repairs, which would move an additional 205,000 acre-feet per year on average.
$200 million for the Friant-Kern Canal, which would move an additional 100,000 acre-feet per year on average.
$200 million for the Delta Mendota Canal, which would move an additional 62,000 acre-feet per year on average.
$200 million for the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement to help restore salmon populations in the river.