Press Releases

Senate Panel Approves Feinstein-Boxer Measure to Allow New Water Transfers in California’s Drought-Stricken Central Valley

-Would authorize voluntary transfers of 250,000 to 300,000 acre-feet per year of water between sellers and buyers; streamline environmental reviews -

Washington, DC – The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today approved a measure sponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-Calif.) to help ease the effects of severe drought in the Central Valley by allowing new voluntary water transfers of roughly 250,000 to 300,000 acre-feet of water, depending on rainfall that year, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.  The measure was approved as part of a larger package of bills pending before the Committee.

The Feinstein-Boxer legislation (S.1759) approved by the Committee would grant new authority to the Bureau of Reclamation to approve water transfers between sellers and buyers in the San Joaquin Valley. The measure also would streamline environmental reviews for Central Valley water transfers by ensuring that they occur on a programmatic basis, instead of project-by-project basis as is current practice.  The measure should reduce unnecessary delays in water transfers at a time when Central Valley farmers have been hard hit by a three-year drought.

A similar but narrower provision to temporarily authorize Central Valley water transfers up of to 80,000 acre-feet of between Central Valley Project divisions was included in the enacted Fiscal Year 2010 Energy & Water appropriations bill.

“Today’s Committee action brings us one step closer to moving more water to the most hard-hit Central Valley communities. This timely and sensible legislation will grant the Bureau of Reclamation new authority to allow farmers to transfer up to 250,000 to 300,000 acre-feet of water on an expedited basis, while ensuring that these transfers comply with all federal and state law,” Senator Feinstein said. “I’d like to thank Chairmen Bingaman and Stabenow for moving this legislation quickly through the Committee process. It is my hope that the bill will be considered by the full Senate as soon as possible.”

Senator Boxer said, “I am so pleased that the Energy Committee passed this important legislation to permanently allow for more transfers in California’s San Joaquin Valley and speed the transfer process.  This is about getting water where it is needed, when it is needed.  I look forward to working with my colleagues to make sure this much-needed bill becomes law.”

Companion legislation has been sponsored in the House by Representatives Costa and Cardoza (both D-Calif.).

Specifically, the measure would:

  • Establish new parameters for San Joaquin Valley water transfers that can be authorized by the Bureau of Reclamation. Previously, the Bureau of Reclamation would not approve water transfers if it was determined that the seller with water to sell could have used the water (i.e., for irrigation or groundwater storage purposes), even if the transfer had no negative impact on the environment. The legislation would explicitly grant the Bureau the authority to approve these types of transfers in the San Joaquin Valley as long as they comply with all federal and state law.   
    • The Bureau of Reclamation estimates that this section of the bill could yield up to 100,000 or 150,000 acre-feet of water transfers per year.
  • Direct the Interior Department to streamline the environmental reviews for water transfers from the Sacramento Valley to the San Joaquin Valley by ensuring that they occur on a programmatic basis rather than on a project-by-project basis, which is the current practice. This would allow the Bureau of Reclamation to approve North-South water transfers more promptly and ensure that the environment and species are protected sufficiently. 
    • The Bureau of Reclamation and Central Valley water users estimate that this section of the bill could yield up to 150,000 to 200,000 acre-feet of water transfers per year.
  • Direct the Bureau of Reclamation to analyze existing transfers and prepare recommendations on whether there are other ways to facilitate future Central Valley transfers more efficiently. This would include transfers from north to south and from east to west, as well as between California state and federal projects.  The Bureau will also report on the results of this legislation.

The bill is supported by a number of water users across the Central Valley and environmental groups, including:

  • Friant Water Users Authority
  • San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority 
  • Delta-Mendota Canal Authority 
  • Westlands Water District 
  • Metropolitan Water District 
  • Glen Colusa Irrigation District
  • Northern California Water Association
  • Banta-Carbona Irrigation District
  • Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority
  • Association of California Water Agencies 
  • Placer County Water Agency
  • Conaway Preservation Group
  • Reclamation District 2035
  • San Luis Water District
  • The Nature Conservancy