Washington— The House of Representatives today passed a package of public lands bills that included four bills authored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.): the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area Act, the Santa Ana Wash Plan Land Exchange Act and the Contra Costa Canal Transfer Act.
The Senate passed the lands package on February 12 and it now heads to the president to be signed into law.
California Desert Protection and Recreation Act:
“The California Desert Protection and Recreation Act is the culmination of an effort that started during my first year in office to better protect and manage our desert,” said Senator Feinstein “It fulfills my promise to off-roaders and environmental groups then that we wouldn’t stop until that collaborative effort was complete. I want to thank our partners in California and Congressman Cook for working to protect this national treasure.
“From desert tortoises to bighorn sheep, breathtaking wildflower blooms to iconic Joshua trees, the beauty of the California desert is unrivaled. It’s a defining part of California’s landscape, and I’m proud of our work to ensure it remains that way for future generations to enjoy.”
The legislation builds upon the legacy of the California Desert Protection Act, Senator Feinstein’s landmark bill passed in 1994 that established Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave National Preserve and protected more than 7.6 million acres of California desert wilderness.
In 2016, Senator Feinstein asked President Obama to expand protections for the desert by creating the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains national monuments. Those new public lands will also benefit from this legislation.
This legislation completes efforts started in 1994 to restore and protect the desert and its surrounding communities. It is the result of years of engagement with a range of stakeholders including local and state government officials, environmental groups, off-highway recreation enthusiasts, cattle ranchers, mining interests, the Department of Defense and California’s public utility companies.
Key provisions of the legislation:
Protects more than 375,000 acres of wilderness: Creates eight new Bureau of Land Management wilderness areas totaling 280,360 acres, expands Death Valley National Park Wilderness by 88,000 acres and adds 7,141 acres to the San Gorgonio Wilderness within San Bernardino National Forest.
National Park land: Expands Joshua Tree National Park by 4,518 acres and Death Valley National Park by 35,292 acres, which includes 1,600 acres donated by the Mojave Desert Land Trust.
Off-highway vehicle recreation areas: Permanently designates six existing off-highway vehicle recreational areas covering more than 200,000 acres, ensuring off-highway enthusiasts will have continued access to those areas to enjoy trail riding.
Alabama Hills National Scenic Area: Designates 18,610 acres of BLM land in Inyo County as the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, preserving it for continued recreation and conservation.
Vinagre Wash Special Management Area: Designates 81,800 acres in Imperial County that provides for wilderness preservation, vehicular use on designated routes, and limitations on extractive uses of the land within the management area.
Wild and Scenic Rivers: Designates 77 miles of waterways as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area Act
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area Act establishes the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as California’s first National Heritage Area. It authorizes $10 million in federal assistance over 15 years to provide matching grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations. This federal funding is necessary to help implement the locally developed National Heritage Area management plan to promote environmental stewardship, heritage conservation and economic development projects throughout the Delta.
“I’m proud that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will become California’s first National Heritage Area. This was a bill I first introduced with Senator Boxer, and I’m pleased that with Congressman Garamendi’s help it’s finally on the cusp of becoming law. The overdue heritage designation will preserve the delta’s rich culture and traditions and ensure it remains an economic engine for the region’s economy.”
“A National Heritage Area designation will provide crucial support for the Delta, which I have called home for over 40 years” said Congressman John Garamendi (D-Calif.), author of companion legislation in the House. “We must safeguard this iconic working landscape and the most productive watershed in the western United States, and I am pleased that Congress has finally passed my legislation to make that possible. I thank my colleagues in the House for their strong support, and Senator Feinstein for championing the bill in the Senate.”
The bill would have no effect on water operations in and around the Delta, water rights, water contracts or property rights, nor would it create any new regulatory authority or burden on local government or private citizens. The bill would also have no effect on fishing and hunting within the National Heritage Area.
Santa Ana Wash Plan Land Exchange Act
The Santa Ana Wash Plan Land Exchange Act directs the Bureau of Land Management to exchange approximately 300 acres of land with the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District in the Santa Ana Wash, at the junction of the Santa Ana River and Mill Creek.
The 4,500-acre Santa Ana Wash is a patchwork of land parcels owned by the water conservation district or BLM. The land exchange would help consolidate 1,347 acres of open space to preserve and protect habitat along the river’s floodplain as part of the broader Santa Ana River Wash Plan.
The area is also occupied by two mining companies that extract materials for cement and concrete production. The bill allows these commercial operations to continue in the Santa Ana Wash in an environmentally sensitive manner.
Contra Costa Canal Transfer Act
The Contra Costa Canal Transfer Act transfers the title of the Contra Costa Canal System from the Bureau of Reclamation to the Contra Costa Water District to allow the water district to complete necessary safety improvements to the canal. Since the Contra Costa Canal has been operational, 82 people have drowned in the uncovered canal.
Built between 1937 and 1948, the canal delivers water to homes and businesses throughout Contra Costa County, as well as to the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys for irrigation. The 48-mile system is currently an open canal, but following the transfer, the water district will enclose it in a surface pipeline to help prevent deadly accidents, including a drowning last year. It would also help improve recreation and land use around the canal system by revitalizing land located in the Concord Naval Weapons Station.