Speeches

Recent Speeches

MRS. FEINSTEIN: Mr. President, I rise today in support of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009.  

I commend my colleagues who support this comprehensive public lands bill, and I thank Chairman Bingaman for his leadership. He and his staff should be congratulated for their perseverance and patience in shepherding this important bill through the legislative process.

I’d like to speak first about one of the bill’s provisions, which has major implications for California – and that is the legislation to implement the historic San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement, which I have sponsored with my colleague from California, Senator Boxer.

This measure would restore California’s second longest river, while maintaining a stable water supply for the farmers who have made the San Joaquin Valley the richest agricultural area in the world.   

Once enacted, this bill would bring to a close 19 years of litigation between the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Friant Water Users Authority and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

And it does so within a framework that the affected interests can accept – and have all agreed to.  

The Settlement 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.

Consistent with the terms of the Settlement, I expect that both of these goals will be pursued with equal diligence by the federal agencies.

This historic agreement would not have been possible without the participation of a remarkably broad group of agencies, stakeholders and legislators, including:
  • The Department of the Interior,
  • The State of California,
  •  The Friant Water Users Authority,
  • The Natural Resources Defense Council on behalf of 13 other environmental organizations, and
  • Countless other stakeholders who came together and spent countless hours with legislators in Washington to ensure that we found a solution that the large majority of those affected could support.

Without this consensus, the parties would no doubt continue the fight, resulting in a court-imposed judgment – one which would likely be worse for all parties.  

I spoke at greater length about the purposes and benefits of this legislation during my statements upon introduction of the omnibus lands bill and when introducing the San Joaquin River Settlement legislation in December 2006 and January 2007 in previous Congresses.

I would like to take a moment to highlight several important changes that were made to this version of the legislation – which improved upon the initial bill, first introduced in December 2006.

First, the legislation 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.

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.

Similarly, 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.

Second, the bill incorporates 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.

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.

Now, I would like to speak at greater length about the legislation’s substantial protections for other water districts and private landowners in California that were not party to the original settlement negotiations.
 
I think it is important to note that these protections have been agreed to by all of the Settling Parties as well as the third-party water agencies in the San Joaquin Valley who requested them, and that they will be accomplished while ensuring a timely and robust restoration of the River.

  • Section 10004(d) requires that the Secretary of the Interior identify:
    • First, the impacts associated with the proposed action or actions; and
    • Second, the measures that will be implemented to mitigate those impacts.

  • Sections 10004(f), 10004(g) and 10004(j) protect third party water users by clarifying that implementation of the settlement will cause no involuntary reductions in contract water allocations to long-term CVP contractors (other than Friant contractors), by making it clear that the bill does not, except as actually provided in the Settlement and this bill, modify the rights and obligations of parties to existing water service, repayment, purchase, or exchange contracts, and by specifying that the rights and obligations under what is known as the Exchange Contract (with downstream districts) are not modified.  

  • Further, section 10006(b) makes it clear that the bill does not preempt State law or modify any existing obligation of the United States under Federal reclamation law to operate the Central Valley Project in conformity with State law.

Some third parties had expressed concerns about potential conflicts between the provision of flows under the restoration program, and the rights of the Exchange Contractors to water from the San Joaquin River.  

The Bureau of Reclamation has provided a letter that complements the language in the legislation and explains that such a conflict is extremely unlikely, but should such a conflict arise the Bureau will continue to make water available to the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors consistent with its contractual requirements.   

 I ask that the letter, dated November 6, 2008, from Mr. Donald Glaser, Regional Director of the Bureau of Reclamation for the Mid-Pacific Region of California to Mr. Steve Chedester, Executive Director of the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority, be printed at this point in the Record.

----INSERT 11/6/08 USBOR-CHEDESTER LETTER--

  • Concerns about potential damage to downstream farmers and landowners from water seepage resulting from interim restoration flows under the Settlement are addressed by Sections 10004(h).   

That section directs the Secretary, before releasing interim flows, to prepare an analysis of channel conveyance capacities and the potential for seepage, describe an associated seepage monitoring program, and evaluate possible seepage impacts and mitigation measures for impacts that are significant.  

The section also directs that interim flows may only be released to the extent they will not impede completion of the channel restoration work or exceed downstream channel capacities.  

And finally the section directs the Secretary to reduce interim flows if necessary to address material adverse impacts from groundwater seepage that the Secretary identifies through the Secretary’s monitoring program.
 Some of the third-party agencies have expressed concerns about the effectiveness of a fish barrier in the San Joaquin River near the confluence of the Merced River in preventing the upstream migration of anadromous fish prior to reintroduction of salmon and implementation of the restoration flow program.  

  • This concern has been addressed in part with the addition of Section 10004(i)(4), which calls for an evaluation of the temporary fish barrier, and the funding of fish screens and facilities under certain circumstances.   

To further address the concerns regarding the effectiveness of the fish barrier, the Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Fish and Game have exchanged letters confirming their willingness to cooperate in the operation and evaluation of the Hills Ferry Fish Barrier during the Interim Flows period.

More specifically, these letters discuss future efforts by these agencies to achieve a barrier program that effectively prevents unintended upstream passage of salmonids during the interim flow period.  

I applaud these efforts and look forward to their successful implementation.

I ask that the agencies’ letters, dated December 22, 2008, from Mr. Jason Phillips, Program Manager, Bureau of Reclamation; and January 5, 2009, from Jeffery Single, Ph.D., Regional Manager, California Department of Fish and Game, be printed at this point in the Record.

---INSERT 12/22/08 USBOR-CDF&G LETTER--
---INSERT 1/5/09 CDF&G-USBOR LETTER---

Third parties had also requested that actions to increase the channel capacity in Reach 2B of the River be prioritized.  The legislation directs the Secretary to implement the channel improvements that are listed in paragraph 11 of the Settlement necessary to achieve the restoration goal.  

Among the highest priority restoration improvements identified in the Settlement are modifications to increase the channel capacity of reach 2B of the River.  I am pleased that work in that reach will be a priority for the restoration program, and as a result will also address the third party concerns.

  • Finally, Section 10011 of the bill provides that the Central Valley Spring Run Chinook Salmon re-introduced into the San Joaquin River will be classified as an “experimental population” under the Endangered Species Act.  

This Section also makes clear that it establishes no precedent with respect to any other application of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  

It also provides that the Secretary of Commerce shall issue a rule under section 4(d) of the ESA which shall provide that the reintroduction of the Spring Run Salmon under this section shall not impose more than de minimus water supply reductions, additional storage releases or bypass flows on unwilling third parties.

In closing, in addition to the protections listed above, I wish to highlight one further provision of the Settlement that reflects some of the significant themes of this historic agreement.  

In Paragraph 13(h) of the Settlement Agreement, the Settling Parties agreed that the Secretary of the Interior should apply to the State of California to protect the restoration flows from Friant Dam to the Delta, subject to existing downstream diversion rights.  

In my view, this underscores that this Settlement is intended to conform to State law and that the Interior Department will seek appropriate actions by the State Water Resources Control Board to ensure that the water released for the Settlement is controlled and managed from Friant Dam to the Delta to accomplish the Restoration Goal and Water Management Goal purposes.
 
The Bureau of Reclamation has made significant progress on environmental and engineering studies necessary to implement the Settlement.

Passage of the legislation will allow the agency to undertake specific programs and projects to implement the Settlement’s Restoration and Water Management Goals.  

For example, with approval of the legislation, interim flows can begin this fall as scheduled, once a required environmental study is completed.  

These limited water releases will provide essential information on channel capacity, fishery needs and water recovery opportunities as well as potential third-party impacts, such as seepage, and measures that may be needed to mitigate them.  

The information will be used to shape other important aspects of the Restoration Goal program, such as the release of full restoration flows, scheduled to begin in 2014.

Passage of the legislation also will allow the Bureau to take immediate steps toward achieving the Water Management Goal, including undertaking a project to restore the water-carry capacity of the Friant-Kern and Madera Canals, and the installation of pump-back systems on the canals to help recapture water losses resulting from the Settlement.   

In addition, the agency is charged with implementing a cost-sharing program for local groundwater recharge and recovery projects that will help mitigate water losses.

Before I conclude, I’d like to also briefly discuss the other 19 California bills in the omnibus legislation approved today.

First, wilderness provisions: The three wilderness bills in this package would together protect a wilderness about 735,000 acres of land in Mono, Riverside, Inyo, and Los Angeles Counties, and within Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park.  

The bills include three additions to National Wilderness Preservation System:

  • Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wilderness,
  • Riverside County Wilderness, and
  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Wilderness.

This package of wilderness bills would help expand lasting federal protection for some of California’s important natural resources.  

Second: water project authorizations

In the West, drought, population growth, increasing climate variability, and ecosystem needs make managing water supplies especially challenging.

The 9 California water recycling projects included in the omnibus bill offer a proven means to develop cost effective alternative water supply projects.  

The 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

Together they will help our State reduce its dependence on imported water from both the Lower Colorado River and Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta.  

Third: other public lands bills to help preserve California’s historic legacy. These include:

  • Bureau of Land Management:
    • Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians of the Tuolumne Rancheria land exchange

  • Forest Service:
    • Mammoth Community Water District land conveyance

  • National Park Service:
    • Tule Lake Segregation Center Resource Study
 
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 passage of this omnibus legislation means we’re one step closer towards resolving the longstanding conflict over the future of the San Joaquin River.

This is a bill whose time is long overdue, and I strongly urge my colleagues in the House of Representatives to promptly join us in approving this critical piece of legislation.

Thank you, and I yield the floor.

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