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Senate Energy Committee Approves Historic Legislation to Implement Settlement to Restore the San Joaquin River

- Legislation would end 19 years of litigation over the San Joaquin River -

Washington, DC – The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today approved legislation sponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-Calif.) that would implement a settlement to restore the San Joaquin River and reintroduce the California Central Valley Spring Run Chinook Salmon to the river. 

Companion legislation was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee last fall.

“This brings us one step closer to passing this landmark legislation,” Senator Feinstein said.  “The legislation would bring an end to 19 years of litigation between the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friant Water Users Authority, and the Federal Government.  It would transform the San Joaquin into a living river and maintain a stable water supply for the farmers of the region.

If this legislation fails, the fate of the San Joaquin River would be determined by a federal district judge who, the parties agree, would likely rule in favor of releasing much larger amounts of water at higher cost, and without any effort to mitigate farmers’ potential water losses.  It is this threat that compelled the parties to the table, and brought them to agreement. 

Bottom line:  this legislation can help resolve one of the oldest water disputes in the West.  If Congress doesn’t resolve it, a federal judge will -- with consequences that would be more costly and impose a greater burden on farmers.”

“This legislation will help bring the great San Joaquin River back to life and end years of litigation and stalemate,” Senator Boxer said. “I want to commend my colleague, Senator Feinstein for her commitment to bringing together the NRDC, the Friant Water Users Authority and State of California to settle this matter."

The legislation approved by committee today was the product of lengthy negotiations led by Senator Feinstein to resolve differences in the draft legislation in September 2006.

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

The legislation indicates how the settlement agreement forged by the parties is going to be implemented.  It involves the Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce, and the Bureau of Reclamation, and essentially gives the Secretary of the 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 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.  This settlement will reverse that.

The majority of the costs of the settlement would be shouldered by the parties themselves and the State of California.  Friant is expected to pay $200 million over 20 years for this settlement and the State has pledged over $200 million.  The Congressional Budget Office scored the House companion legislation at $190 million over 10 years.

The amended legislation contains significant changes that will help limit water losses to farmers.  It provides approximately $100 million for infrastructure projects (conveyance and groundwater storage) that would help farmers better manage their water and limit any potential water supply impacts of the settlement.  These changes came at the request of the farmers.

The legislation 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 Department of the Interior and the State of California will have partners in efforts to restore the river, improve water supply, and protect the threatened species.

Those present at the negotiations were Senator Barbara Boxer, Representatives George Radanovich, Dennis Cardoza, Jim Costa, Devin Nunes, and former Represenative Richard Pombo, 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 San Joaquin River Settlement was filed with the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of California in late 2006.  This Settlement requires federal implementing legislation to become fully effective.

List of Supporters
U.S. Department of Interior
U.S. Department of Commerce
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
California Resources Agency
California Department of Water Resources
California Department of Fish and Game
California Environmental Protection Agency
Bay Area Council
Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors
San Joaquin County Board of Supervisory
National Water Resources Association
Arvin-Edison Water Storage District
Chowchilla Water District
Delano-Earlimart Irrigation District
Exeter Irrigation District
Friant Water Users Authority
Ivanhoe Irrigation District
Lindmore Irrigation District
Lindsay-Strathmore Irrigation District
Madera Irrigation District
Orange Cove Irrigation District
Porterville Irrigation District
Saucelito Irrigation District
Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District
Southern San Joaquin Municipal Utility District
Stone Corral Irrigation District
Teapot Dome Water District
Terra-Bella Irrigation District
Tulare Irrigation District
Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA)
Central Delta Water Agency
South Delta Water Agency
Valley Water Alliance
San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust
Revive the San Joaquin
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association
California Sport fishing Protection Alliance
Natural Resources Defense Council
The Bay Institute of San Francisco
Trout Unlimited of California
California Trout
Friends of the River
Nor-Cal Fishing Guides and Sportsman Association
Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Sierra Club
Stanislaus Audubon Society, Inc
United Anglers of California
California Striped Bass Association
National Audubon Society
American Rivers
Defenders of Wildlife
Endangered Species Coalition
Environmental Defense
Friends of the Earth
National Wildlife Federation
Natural Heritage Institute
The Nature Conservancy
Ocean Conservancy
San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority
Kern County Water Agency
San Joaquin Tributaries Association (Modesto, Turlock, Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts)