Press Releases

Washington, DC – The omnibus public lands bill (H.R. 146) signed into law today by President Obama 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. 

“Today is a banner day,” Senator Feinstein said. “This new law will make it possible to fully implement the court-approved settlement to restore the San Joaquin River to a living river, while also providing water certainty so that the needs of the agricultural, environmental and farming communities can all be sustained with minimum adverse impacts.  

The Natural Resources Defense Council will be able to see that the San Joaquin River and its historic salmon populations will be restored. The 15,000 farmers of the Friant Water Users Authority will know that their 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 Department of the Interior and the State of California will now have partners in efforts to restore the river, improve water supply, and protect the threatened species.

I truly believe that the framework agreement represents the best possible outcome for the affected parties – and I’m pleased that it will also help save roughly $400 million of federal taxpayers’ money.  This is the final chapter in nearly two decades of legal battles over the future of this once-mighty river, and a turning point for California’s Central Valley.”

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 thank President Obama for signing this important bill.”

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).

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.

The omnibus bill was approved by the House on March 25 by a vote of 285-140, and was previously approved by the Senate by a vote of 77-20 on March 19.

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.