California's elected leaders have been called back to Sacramento for a special session to address California's chronic water shortages.
The San Joaquin Valley can't wait any longer for a solution. It's time for state legislators to deliver a viable water bond to fix California's outdated water infrastructure, built to serve 16 million people and severely strained by the state's population of 38 million -- which could swell to 50 million by 2050.
Legislators have missed several opportunities to find a solution in recent years. Last summer, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and I proposed a $9.8 billion water bond, but the Legislature kept it from the ballot. Another bond proposal failed to secure agreement in August.
But the three-year drought wreaking havoc on Valley farmers should spur urgent action. Congress and the Obama administration have already taken several steps to move more water to the farmers who desperately need it.
First, Congress approved a measure to allow east/west water transfers of up to 80,000 acre-feet. This will be complemented by a bill I introduced with Sen. Barbara Boxer that grants new permanent authority to the Bureau of Reclamation to approve and expedite water transfers of up to 250,000 to 300,000 acre-feet per year in the Valley beyond what is presently possible. Enacting this legislation is a top priority.
In 2009, about 600,000 acre-feet in water transfers from willing sellers to buyers have been approved, and we must continue to find ways to expand and expedite the water transfer program.
Second, Valley farmers scored a victory in September when the Interior Department agreed to my request for an independent scientific review of the biological opinions that restrict pumping in the Delta. I put $750,000 in an appropriations bill to fund it, and I will add requirements to ensure that the initial recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences be provided no later than March 15, 2010 -- in time for planting season.
The Academy study should determine whether the pumping restrictions are fully supported by the best available science and whether there are other ways to supply more water to farmers, while sufficiently protecting endangered species. The scientists should also look at the effects of other stressors in the Delta, including pesticides and ammonia discharges, and whether it would be appropriate to re-examine the biological opinions.
Third, the Interior Department is expediting two important near-term projects that could provide more water to farmers: Two Gates and the Intertie. Two Gates is a pilot project to determine whether the insertion of two temporary structures could protect endangered fish species, while allowing substantially more water to flow.
The Intertie is a connector between federal and state canals that would allow more flexibility in water conveyance, and could yield up to 35,000 more acre-feet of water.
Construction on both projects is expected to begin next year. To date, Congress has approved $10 million in funding. I am urging the administration to request $31 million for Two Gates and $29 million for the Intertie in next year's budget.
These actions don't solve the whole problem, but they are already resulting in crucial water transfers.
Partisan rhetoric hasn't moved one drop of water to the Valley, nor has the deadlock in Sacramento.
The Valley is in a drought emergency and hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland have been fallowed. The drought is compounding an economic crisis driven by losses in the construction and housing industries.
These bleak conditions have contributed to skyrocketing unemployment and economic desperation. At the Fresno County Food Bank, need has surged by 60%, and I have worked to help secure emergency federal food assistance.
Clearly, state legislators must now produce a viable bond that will fund additional storage capacity, restore the crumbling San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta, support new and improved conveyance, and place a strong emphasis on conservation. The Valley can't wait any longer for a solution, and neither can the state of California.