Press Releases

Washington, DC – At a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today urged support of a measure to implement the historic San Joaquin River settlement. The legislation, cosponsored by Senators Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), would restore the San Joaquin River and reintroduce the California Central Valley Spring Run Chinook Salmon to the river. The legislation was the product of days of negotiations led by Senator Feinstein to resolve differences in the draft legislation last September.

The following is the prepared statement of Senator Feinstein for the hearing:

“Let me thank the Chairman for holding this hearing and inviting me here today.

There’s an old saying when it comes to water, ‘Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting over.’

There is no area where this has been more the case than the future of the San Joaquin River. The San Joaquin River historically supported large salmon populations, but since the late 1940’s, approximately 60 miles of the river have been dried up in most years. 

And there have been lengthy court battles.  The Natural Resources Defense Council and the environmental community have sued the Friant water users and the Department of the Interior.  The litigation has lingered for 18 years.

But a year and a half ago that all changed.   Judge Karlton in the Eastern District of California ruled that if the parties couldn’t come to a settlement, then he would settle it for them. 

And all parties believe that the judge would likely rule in favor of releasing much larger amounts of water from Friant Dam than the settlement requires.  In addition, the judge’s imposed solution would lack the benefit of months of compromise negotiations between the parties and other groups not part of the litigation on how to restore the river while preserving the many parties’ different interests.

And so the parties all decided a settlement would be in their best interests.  And they asked for my help and the help of Congressman Radanovich to push them toward settlement. All agreed the alternative to settlement would be worse. 

Despite all expectations, each side made concessions, and they came to agreement.  But the process wasn’t finished.

This Settlement requires federal implementing legislation to become fully effective.

And so I invited the parties to the litigation, and other parties who felt their concerns had not been addressed, back to Washington to hammer out the details of the legislation. 

And the negotiations went on for hundreds of hours over a period of weeks last September.  They were tough negotiations that often went late into the night.

We went over every line of this legislation, and I asked if anybody had objections over each provision.  If they did, then we would discuss and caucus and come back with language that everyone could agree on.

And finally, we reached a point where everyone around the table agreed on the legislation, and I asked each of the parties to sign and indicate that they would support the legislation – both in public and private.

And they did. 

After the voters of California passed Prop 84 and Prop 1E at the November election, which provided at least $100 million and potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in State funding for this restoration project, I asked the Settling Parties, the State, and other congressional sponsors of this Settlement effort to agree to one final modification to the financing provisions of this legislation. 

This final modification which I requested required a 50% match in non-federal contributions as a precondition for spending any new federal appropriations that are authorized by this bill.

So we’re here today.  Here’s what the legislation will do:

It will help transform the San Joaquin into a living river and ensure that the hard-working men and women in the Friant service area will continue to have a stable water supply.

The legislation indicates how the settlement agreement is going to be implemented.  It involves the Department of Interior, the Department of Commerce, and the Bureau of Reclamation, and essentially gives the Secretary of Interior the additional authority to:

  • Take the actions to restore the San Joaquin River;
  • Reintroduce the California Central Valley Spring Run Chinook Salmon;
  • Minimize water supply impacts on Friant water users; and
  • Avoid reductions in water supply for third-party water contractors.

 The parties bridged the gap for one simple reason:  it gives all sides certainty on how the river will be restored and water will be used. 

The Natural Resources Defense Council will be able to see that the San Joaquin River is restored, without further litigation.

The Friant Water Users Authority will know that its water supply will remain at manageable levels.

Third party water contractors will be able to avoid all but the smallest water impacts as a result of the settlement, except on a voluntary basis.

And the State of California now has partners in efforts to restore the river, improve water supply, and protect the threatened species.

Around the table were Senator Barbara Boxer, Representatives George Radanovich, Richard Pombo, Dennis Cardoza, Jim Costa, and Devin Nunes, representatives of the State of California and Federal Government, Friant Water Users Authority, the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as numerous third party water contractors from the Central Valley.

 The fact that five members of the House of Representatives participated on a bipartisan basis is extraordinarily important.  It indicates how critical this issue is to the entire Central Valley. 

The negotiations often went late into the evening.  But each side came together in good faith and compromised on a number of key issues.

 And in the end, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friant Water Users Authority, the State of California, and all of the third parties have agreed to support the settlement and the legislation, and they pledged to do what’s necessary to see that it is approved by Congress.

 I believe the parties involved in these negotiations came up with a workable solution. And I believe that the parties will continue to work in good faith to address any remaining water supply reductions for Friant.  At my request, Friant has prepared a 76-page list of water supply projects.  This includes projects:

  • To build groundwater banking and recharge facilities;
  • To construct facilities to link the separate water distribution systems of Friant districts;  and
  • To increase the capacity of major water conveyance facilities.

For the projects that need Federal funding, I am standing by to do what I can to help.  We expect many projects like these to be in place before full Restoration Flows begin in 2014. 

But here’s the risk:

If we do not pass this legislation, and the settlement is not enacted, then the future of the San Joaquin won’t be charted by the people who use its water.

It will be decided by a judge who will demand that far more water be released than is envisioned by the current settlement agreement – and with far less certainty on how it will be used.

So I’m asking you to pass this legislation.  Help restore the San Joaquin into a living River.  And provide certainty to those in the Friant service area.”