Funding for Friant-Kern Canal Repairs May Come

Senator Melissa Hurtado Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Fix Friant-Kern Canal

News Release

State Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), representing the 14th Senate District in California, along with principal co-authors Senator Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno), Assemblymember Devon Mathis (R-Visalia), Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), and Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), announced last week the introduction of Senate Bill 559.  The bipartisan-supported legislation will secure California’s water supply by investing $400 million in general funds towards the Friant-Kern Canal, one of the Central Valley’s most critical water delivery facilities.

Currently, the Friant-Kern Canal’s conveyance capacity has degraded due to several factors, including severe land subsidence caused by regional groundwater overdraft. A portion of the canal, roughly 20 miles long, has subsided twelve feet below its original design elevation, including three feet of subsidence from 2014 to 2017. As a result, the canal has suffered the loss of 60 percent of its carrying capacity—constricting the delivery of water to some of California’s most vulnerable communities.

“From 2012 to 2016, California experienced one of the most severe drought conditions. As a result, many of our farmers, families and entire communities within the Central Valley continue to experience limited access to one of their most fundamental rights—clean water,” Hurtado said.

“The Valley’s socioeconomic health depends on the conveyance of clean and safe water. Not only does this canal support nearly 1.2 million acres of family farms in California, but it provides one in every five jobs directly related to agriculture,” Hurtado continued. “For this reason, I am proud to stand with my colleagues to introduce SB 559. This legislation prioritizes our most disadvantage communities by restoring water supply in the Central Valley.”

“The Friant-Kern Canal has lost 60 percent of its carrying capacity in some locations. This problem threatens about 350,000 acres of highly productive farmland below the damaged portion of the canal, and also limit opportunities to maximize groundwater recharge projects that will be very important to helping the Valley comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act,” said Jason Phillips, CEO of the Friant Water Authority. “On behalf of the farmers, businesses, and communities who rely on the Friant-Kern Canal, we very much appreciate Senator Hurtado’s leadership on this legislation.”

“Today, we are fighting for the future of the Central Valley, and I am pleased to join my colleagues in this bipartisan effort and support funding for the Friant-Kern Canal,” Borgeas said. “Valley farmers and our communities depend on this infrastructure to ensure a reliable supply of water. By restoring the canal to its fully operational state, we ensure the delivery of clean and reliable water supply to our communities and farmers. This investment in our water infrastructure is long overdue and critical for our valley.”

“California faces a stark reality when it comes to water,” Arambula said.  “Scarce water supplies, aging infrastructure and a growing population are some of the stressors on our state’s water system.  That is why we need real-time solutions to our long-term water challenges. Restoring the Friant-Kern Water Canal will help us protect our existing water supply while we work on reaching sustainable solutions that will get water out to our communities.”

“SB 559 is crucial to keep the Friant-Kern Canal, the largest artery for water on the east side of the Valley, afloat. This measure is extremely important to keep this economic engine which powers our economy and provides tremendous benefit locally, statewide and even nationally. Failing to fix the Friant-Kern Canal is not an option, simply because having water is never an option. I am proud to coauthor this measure with Senator Hurtado and look forward to bringing this funding to the Valley,” Mathis said.

“Water is the lifeblood of the Valley and the backbone of California’s economy.  Senate Bill 559 is a step towards bringing the Friant-Kern Canal to its full capacity and addressing the State’s critical water needs.  This measure will invest in our future by building water infrastructure projects and helping our local water districts fulfill their sustainable groundwater management plans,” Salas said.

“On behalf of the City of Porterville, I am very appreciative of our leaders’ efforts and support by introducing SB 559,” said Porterville Mayor Martha Flores.

“The Friant-Kern Canal is the lifeblood to the southeastern San Joaquin Valley, and the canal being fully-efficient with the ability to carry surface water to its designed capacity is essential, especially in consideration of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act,” Flores continued. “The Friant-Kern Canal plays a valuable strategic role in the sustainability of Porterville as the city seeks to enhance its surface water recharge program and reduce its groundwater footprint.”

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Optimism Still Alive for Temperance Flat Dam

Hope on the Horizon, but Questions Still Unanswered for California Water Systems

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

Funding awarded for the new Temperance Flat Dam may have fallen short, but hopes for construction are still very much alive. Jason Phillips, Director of Friant Water Authority and alumni of the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority, has insight as to why those involved with the project are still optimistic.

According to Phillips, the Temperance Flat project is being moved to a joint power authority (JPA), an action that was previously expected.

“Part of the process is to take the application that the water infrastructure authority submitted and move it to the implementing agency. So this is a really positive step moving forward for implementing the project,” Phillips explained.

He further added, “This is not the result of any kind of conflict. This is exactly what has been envisioned.”

Although progress is being made towards the Temperance Flat JPA, the question as to how existing water structures will be repaired still stands. After Californians failed to pass Prop 3, there has been much anticipation around issues like water supply and infrastructure restoration.

“We’re going to be working with this administration on whether another water bond might make sense or whether there are other mechanisms to help finance the infrastructure to keep farming viable in the valley,” Phillips said.

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Proposition 3 Water Bond on Nov. Ballot

Initiative Would Fund Urgent Water Projects

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

California Proposition 3, the Water Infrastructure and Watershed Conservation Bond Initiative, will be on the 2018 ballot. A yes vote supports the measure to authorize $8.8 billion in general obligation bonds for water infrastructure, groundwater supplies and storage, surface water storage and dam repairs, watershed and fisheries improvements, and habitat protection and restoration.

If passed, the bonds will help fix subsidence issues and the Friant Kern canal. If passed, this bond is sure to go to fixing things instead of being taken hostage by the California Water Commission and not used as it was intended.

Jason Phillips

Jason Phillips, CEO of the Friant Water Users Authority, which operates the Federal Friant Kern canal said, “It is real money that will be used. And I think what California will realize is that there’s a real need for that, and when you look at the size of California and the fact that the bond will fund projects that go from as far down as San Diego and the Salton Sea, and as far north to support the repairs needed Oroville Dam, it’s a 100 percent bond that would fund it, no reimbursement required, and the money would come straight to the Friant Water Authority to be used immediately.”

“We’ve already worked with Department of Water Resources to make sure that when the bond passes, we could start submitting requests for some of that funding immediately to start working on the canal in November 2018,” he said.

The subsidence along the canal is a big problem, and it’s growing. The worst part of it is in the middle of the 152-mile canal. The capacity of the canal has been reduced by about 60 percent, and that causes significant problems when there’s high demand, such as the middle of summer when the farmers need the water to put on their crops.

“It’s in the middle of summer, everybody’s asked for water, and we’re not able to move everything, so we have to turn people down and so what do they do? They have to turn on groundwater wells to supplement, and that is the problem that is causing more subsidence and right now,” Phillips explained.

Phillips said the canal, at it’s worse spot is, is sinking at about an inch a month.

Go to waterbond.org for more information.

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Jason Phillips Talks Water Issues

Jason Phillips on Groundwater Recharge, Water Bond, and Subsidence

Editor’s Note: Jason Phillips is the CEO of the Friant Water Authority, as well as a member of the Board of Directors with the San Joaquin Water Infrastructure Authority (SJWIA), which is behind the building of Temperance Flat Dam. Editor Patrick Cavanaugh sat down with Jason Phillips, and this interview reflects the topics discussed.

Cavanaugh: The California Water Commission rejected all of the storage proposals for Prop 1 money due to all applicants not showing enough in the public benefit ratio. They have all appealed to the Commission, and their decision will be at the end of July. It’s extraordinary that the California Water Commission does not see groundwater recharge as a public benefit.

Phillips: The law was written in such a way that groundwater recharge, which is what we desperately need, is not considered a public benefit. But I must say that the SJWIA team putting together the application did a great job of using water out of Temperance for multiple benefits, including salmon and keeping water in the valley for groundwater recharge, and I hope the Water Commission can see that.

Cavanaugh: The Commission requires a 1:1 ratio, meaning for every $1 spent on the project, it must benefit the public by $1. Temperance Flat Dam was shown that for each $1 spent, it would give back $3.

Phillips: That’s right, and that’s what is necessary. Anybody who looks into what salmon requires surviving—well, it’s cold water. So the ability to generate more cold water in the upper San Joaquin River is nearly impossible. So if you can get a new reservoir over 600 feet high and have a cold water pool, that would provide a benefit. And that’s what the consultant looked at. The commission in their initial analysis assigned zero benefits to salmon, so that’s why we got such a low score.

But if you look at alternatives to trying to provide that salmon benefit in the river, there aren’t a lot of other options, which is why it’s such a significant benefit for Temperance. And again, it’s not sending the water out of the valley by sending it to the San Joaquin River and recirculating it back to growers and cities … so that we can get the groundwater recharge.

Cavanaugh: Of course, Temperance Flat Dam will triple the current storage of Millerton Lake, and a significant benefit will be groundwater storage?

Phillips: It would almost exclusively help groundwater storage because the surface supplies that are generated in Temperance would be used to supplement what’s being pumped, so people can put that water in groundwater recharge basins or they’re able to use the water and not have their groundwater pumps running. That is the absolute best form of recharging, is somewhat able to shut their groundwater pump off, have a delivery of surface water instead of that, and let the natural recharge take place.

Cavanaugh: Let’s talk about the new $8.9 billion water bond that will be on the November 2018 ballot and written by Jerry Merel, a former deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources and a longtime water-project advocate.

Phillips: About 18 months, Jerry had a conversation with me about what would the San Joaquin Valley need in a water bond to help get it out of the problem that … it’s in with groundwater overdraft? And recognizing that Prop 1 was the state’s path for Temperance Flat and that there’s a different path for the tunnels, north of the Delta. So those two are not part of this November 2018 bond.

And I told Dr. Merel at the time that we needed to fix our canal system. We have to be able to move water when it’s available to the growers, into the cities, and never miss a drop of available surface water. And to do that, we have to fix the Friant–Kern canal and the Madera canal. We have to expand the conveyance between the existing canals. And he thought that was a great idea. It’s something that should have broad statewide support. It has support from conservation groups up and down the valley.

Cavanaugh: Is this specifically for canal infrastructure repair?

Phillips: It is specifically for infrastructure for conveyance projects that would help recharge the groundwater aquifer.

Cavanaugh: The $9 Billion has a lot of water for all regions of state?

Phillips: it’s broader than just infrastructure. It targets the different regions of the state for what they need most. Recycling and desalination are huge for the southern California coastal community. So it targets cost sharing money there. If you go to northern California, there are things that Sacramento rice growers really need to support their water needs. In the central valley, it’s more water infrastructure for conveyance that can complement new storage and water conveyance in the Delta. It also includes a lot of money to help the groundwater sustainability agencies fund their plans that are required under the groundwater law.

Water in Friant-Kern Canal
Water in Friant-Kern Canal

Cavanaugh: Prop 1 was $2.7 billion, and this one is nearly $9 billion.

Phillips: That is… it is real money. And I think what California will realize is that there’s a real need for that. And when you look at the size of California, and it’s projected that the bond money will be used as far south as San Diego and the Salton Sea and as far north for repairs at Oroville.

When you look at the scope of the state of California … you see that the need is much bigger than that, when it comes to the state’s water infrastructure.

And regarding the $2.7 for storage—on top of that, the projects will require substantial private investment. And we are all looking at that, and I think there’s a lot of interest. There’s still a need for more storage to the extent that even the water agencies themselves and the growers that are part of those agencies are willing to fund. And we’re still looking at whether the state or federal governments will help cost share it.

Cavanaugh: if the California Water Commission never funds Temperance Flat, is it possible to get it privately funded?

Phillips: Friant Water Authority and other water agencies in the valley are actively and aggressively looking at that right now, doing our feasibility studies to look at whether privately financing the reservoir would make sense. I think it probably will, but it’s a very complicated analysis that we have to do. So by the end of the summer, we’ll hear from the Water Commission, and we should know more about the feasibility of private financing will be available.

Cavanaugh: Regarding the Jerry Merel water bond, where can people go to get more information?

Phillips: People can go to waterbond.org. You can see whether you want to look at it in one page or whether you want to look at the actual text of the bond. It’s straightforward on that website.

Cavanaugh: From where would the investment for the new water bond come?

Phillips: It will all be state dollars and depending on the different categories of where the funding goes. Some of it is for cost-shared work, in the San Joaquin Valley on infrastructure, where it would 100 percent bond funded. No reimbursement required and the money would come straight to the Friant Water Authority for immediate use. We’ve already worked with Department of Water Resources to make sure that, that when the bond passes, we could start submitting requests for some of that funding immediately to begin working on the canal, as early as November 2018.

Cavanaugh: How bad is the subsidence along the Friant Kern Canal?

Phillips: It’s a big problem, and it’s growing. The worst part of it is near the middle of the 152-mile canal, where it has subsided three feet and continues to subside. That subsidence is since 2015. The capacity of the canal has been reduced by about 60%, due to subsidence.

To pass the same amount of flow through that section, the elevation of the water in the canal is very near the top of the canal. And five bridges are impacted by that section where the water comes right up to the bridge, and we’re only at 40 percent of the design capacity there.

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