Water and energy appropriations bill includes some help for parched California

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday is scheduled to approve a $33 billion energy and water bill that includes some modest new help for parched San Joaquin Valley farms.

Urged on by two Valley Democrats, the House amended the massive bill to include $10 million for several Valley-related water projects designed to boost irrigation deliveries. The revised bill also is supposed to make it easier to transfer California water from one district to another.

"They're part of an effort to deal with the third year of a drought in California," Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said of the provisions.

Costa and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, authored the two California water amendments adopted by the House on voice votes as part of the fiscal 2010 energy and water appropriations package. The bill funds Army Corps of Engineers projects like Pine Flat Dam, Bureau of Reclamation projects like Friant Dam and energy-related work at places like Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

One amendment steers $10 million toward California's so-called "Intertie" and "Two-Gates" projects. The Intertie would connect the federal Delta-Mendota Canal with state canals, making it easier to shift water around. Two-Gates would prevent fish from being sucked into Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta pumps, thereby allowing more irrigation deliveries south of the Delta.

Additional approvals are still needed before either project proceeds.

The second amendment approved Wednesday is supposed to streamline water transfers across county lines among various irrigation and water districts throughout the San Joaquin Valley.

"There's an incredibly significant crisis we have in the Valley," Cardoza said, adding that "these amendments are not a panacea, (and) they will not cure every problem."

Westlands Water District General Manager Thomas Birmingham called the water transfers a "critical tool" for the district's farmers on the west side of Fresno County.

The amendments authored by the two Democrats did not go as far as several sought by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia. Nunes wanted to shut off funding for several federal water decisions designed to protect the Delta and endangered species such as the Chinook salmon.

Denied a chance to offer his latest water-delivery amendments on the House floor, Nunes dismissed Costa's and Cardoza's efforts as well-meaning but ineffectual.

"There are a lot of people in public office searching for a public relations victory and they hope this will buy them time," Nunes said in a statement, adding that "the truth is that this action will not ease our region's suffering."

Cardoza, in turn, says Nunes' proposals are unrealistic.

The energy and water bill is one of a dozen appropriations measures needed to fund the federal government each year. This year's 348-page committee report is packed with earmarks steering funds to favored local projects.

Cardoza, for instance, secured $460,000 to continue an ongoing study of flood control along Orestimba Creek in western Stanislaus County. Some Republicans including Nunes and Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, though, have sworn off requesting congressional earmarks this year.

Many of the bill's projects were requested by President Barack Obama's proposed budget and are not controversial, including $10 million provided for safety improvements at Success Dam near Porterville. The bill likewise includes the $31 million that Obama sought for restoration of San Francisco Bay and the Delta.