Press Releases

Washington, DC – The omnibus public lands bill (H.R. 146) approved by the Senate today includes a 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. The court-approved settlement will restore and maintain the San Joaquin River’s critical fish populations, while minimizing adverse water supply impacts to long-term Friant water users and other third party contractors.

“This settlement agreement concludes 18 years of litigation, in which the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental and fishing groups sued the federal government concerning releases of water from Friant Dam in order to restore the historic salmon fishery on the San Joaquin River. All the evidence indicates that the judge would rule against the federal government and order large, unpredictable releases of water -- without the additional restoration and water supply actions in the Settlement, which are better for the interests of farmers and fish. Therefore, this settlement was reached by the affected parties and approved by the Court nearly two and a half years ago,” Senator Feinstein said.

“This legislation will give the Secretary of the Interior the authority to fully implement the settlement agreement and ultimately save roughly $400 million in U.S. taxpayer monies. It presents a carefully negotiated framework to carry out an orderly restoration of the River, giving both the environmental and agricultural communities certainty in the delivery of water. It’s time to send this bill to the President for his signature, so I urge my colleagues in the House to quickly approve this legislation,” Senator Feinstein concluded. 

Senator Boxer said: “The San Joaquin River Settlement is a carefully crafted, bipartisan solution that is good for California’s environment, our agriculture and our cities.  I have been pleased to work with Senator Feinstein on this measure, and I look forward to quick House action so the President can sign this bill into law.”

The Settlement is supported by:

  • State of California, 
  • Governor Schwarzenegger, 
  • the U.S. Department of Justice, 
  • the Bureau of Reclamation in the Department of the Interior, 
  • state and national water associations, 
  • local water districts,
  • fishing groups,
  • environmental groups, and 
  • Friant Water Users Authority (Friant represents nearly all of the water supply most affected by the Settlement).

Earlier today, by an overwhelming vote of 70-27, the Senate rejected an amendment offered by Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), which would have stripped the San Joaquin River Settlement provisions from the public lands bill.

The lands bill approved today by the Senate will require the approval of the House of Representatives before it can be sent to the President for his signature. A similar omnibus public lands bill was previously approved by the Senate on January 15, and the House voted 282-144 for the bill on March 11, but the total was 2 votes short of a two-thirds majority needed to pass the bill under a special expedited procedure.    

Senators Feinstein and Boxer originally introduced the legislation to implement the court-approved 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 San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act 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 includes $200 million committed by the State of California and an additional $200 million from water contractors that will be made available for the restoration. 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 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.

Among its other provisions, the bill also authorizes the following projects:

  • Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians of the Tuolumne Rancheria land exchange;
  • Mammoth Community Water District land conveyance; and
  • Tule Lake Segregation Center National Park Service Resource Study.