Congress

Long-sought flood control projects eased passage of California water bill

John Bassett, Director of Engineering (left) and Peter Buck, Natural Resources Supervisor for the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, make their way over a levee under construction in September 2010.
John Bassett, Director of Engineering (left) and Peter Buck, Natural Resources Supervisor for the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, make their way over a levee under construction in September 2010. bpatrick@sacbee.com

Flood control concerns in the Sacramento area and Merced County helped drive a big water bill that won overwhelming congressional approval despite heated conflict over other California provisions.

The flood control authorizations, including some $780 million for West Sacramento work, $880 million for work along the American and Sacramento rivers and a go-ahead for continued study of Merced County streams, made it into the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act.

The bill authorizes, as well, $415 million for work related to Lake Tahoe restoration, and includes a number of other California projects that enjoy wide support or at least spark little controversy. The overall bill is now heading to the White House for the president’s signature after clearing the Senate early Saturday morning by a 78-21 vote.

“Overall this bill is a big win for California’s aging infrastructure, flood protection and ecosystem restoration,” said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Even Feinstein’s unhappy colleague, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, called the broader infrastructure measure a “great bill” that’s loaded with some two dozen California projects. As senior Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Boxer helped write the overall $12 billion infrastructure bill.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a bill that did more for my state,” Boxer said last Friday.

Boxer, nonetheless, sought to block the bill after Feinstein and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield used it as a vehicle for moving a bunch of other provisions sought by California farmers. Feinstein’s and McCarthy’s maneuver helped secure House approval by a 360-61 margin last week.

Some of the infrastructure projects have been thought about for a long time.

The feasibility study for flood control along Merced County’s Black Rascal Creek and Bear Creek, for instance, has its roots in an authorization first passed by Congress in the 1940s.

“Hardly a week goes by but that you read in the paper of destruction caused by floods, so I do not look at this expenditure as money wasted,” then-Rep. Alfred J. Elliott, a Democrat from Tulare County, said during a May 8, 1944, debate.

If constructed, the Merced County projects are estimated by officials to cost about $30 million.

A separate study is authorized for the Cache Creek Settling Basin in Yolo County, while the Army Corps of Engineers is directed to give “priority funding” and “expedite completion” of feasibility studies for flood risk management along the Lower San Joaquin River and for the “Sacramento River Flood Control System.”

“My home district of Sacramento is the most a-risk major American city for flooding, and with the damaging effects of our changing climate, that risk is not going away,” Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, said during House debate.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-6153, @MichaelDoyle10

Democratic opponents of a popular water projects bill, led by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., showed no signs of giving up during Friday's filibuster before the three week congressional holiday, blasting provisions to divert more water to corporate

 

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