Press Releases

Washington, DC – The omnibus public lands bill approved by the Senate today includes a consensus measure sponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-Calif.) to authorize and fund the historic San Joaquin River restoration settlement, which requires federal implementing legislation to become fully effective.  The comprehensive lands bill approved by the Senate today will require the approval of the House before it can be sent to the President for his signature.

“Restoring the once-mighty San Joaquin River – and putting an end to the years of legal battles over the River’s resources – has long been one of my top priorities. The good news is that the Senate today took us one step closer to this vital goal,” Senator Feinstein said.

“Once enacted, this bill would bring to a close 19 years of litigation between the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Friant Water Users Authority and the U.S. Department of the Interior. It would restore and maintain the River’s critical fish populations, while minimizing adverse water supply impacts to long-term Friant water users and other third party contractors.  And it does so within a framework that the affected interests can accept – and have all agreed to. This is a major milestone. It’s my hope that our colleagues in the House will act quickly to approve this legislation, so we can send it to the President for his signature,” Senator Feinstein concluded. 

Senator Boxer said: “This important and necessary legislation will put an end to two decades of litigation and restore habitat and water quality on the second-longest river in California.”

Senators Feinstein and Boxer originally introduced the measure to implement the settlement agreement late in 2006 and then again in 2007, each time with broad bipartisan support. A modified version of the legislation, which reflects a consensus agreement reached in November 2008 between all parties, was introduced as stand-alone legislation on January 6, 2009, and as part of the omnibus public lands measure on January 7.

Details of the Legislation

The Settlement has two goals:

  • To restore and maintain fish populations in the San Joaquin River in good condition, including a self-sustaining salmon fishery; and 
  • To avoid or reduce adverse water supply impacts to long-term Friant water contractors.

The legislation approved today reflects an agreement reached in November 2008 to ensure that the implementing legislation is PAYGO neutral, which means that the restoration program allocates no more in direct spending than it brings in. It also includes provisions approved by the Committee that will increase the amount of up-front funding available for the settlement by allowing most Friant Division contractors to accelerate repayment of their construction cost obligation to the Treasury.  In exchange for early repayment, Friant water agencies will be able to convert their 25-year water service contracts to permanent repayment contracts.

The legislation limits direct spending on settlement implementation to $88 million during the first 10 years. Together with $200 million committed by the State of California and other highly reliable funding, including pre-existing fees paid by water users, there is at least $380-390 million available for implementing the Settlement over the next 10 years, with additional dollars possible from additional federal appropriations.   After 2019, substantial additional funding will become directly available to continue implementing the settlement. 

The agreement also protects the rights of third parties. These protections are accomplished while ensuring a timely and robust restoration of the River and without creating any new precedents for implementing the Endangered Species Act.

The bill also incorporates several key amendments made by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in May 2008 to enhance implementation of the settlement’s “Water Management Goal” to reduce or avoid adverse water supply impacts to Friant Division long-term water contractors.

There is no preemption of State law and nothing in the bill changes any existing obligations of the United States to operate the Central Valley Project in conformity with state law.

Other California Water Provisions Included in the Omnibus Public Lands Bill:

The 9 California water recycling projects included in the omnibus bill offer a proven means to develop cost effective alternative water supply projects.  These and other water projects in the bill would fall under the auspices of the Bureau of Reclamation, and include:

  • San Diego Intertie feasibility study,
  • Madera Water Supply Enhancement Project authorization,
  • Rancho California Water District project authorization 
  • Santa Margarita River project authorization,
  • Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District project authorization,
  • North Bay Water Reuse Authority project authorization,
  • Prado Basin Natural Treatment System Project authorization,
  • Bunker Hill Groundwater Basin project authorization,
  • GREAT Project authorization,
  • Yucaipa Valley Water District project authorization,
  • Goleta Water District Water Distribution System title transfer,
  • San Gabriel Basin Restoration Fund, and 
  • Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program.