While immediate concerns about our budget, health care and the country's economic crisis dominate the news coverage, we cannot overlook how important a reliable water supply is in creating jobs in California. There is a direct correlation between water and jobs here in the Valley, and with consistent double-digit unemployment rates, we need to find solutions to the storage, conveyance and regulatory problems exacerbating our state's man-made water crisis.
Since taking office, I have introduced bills and amendments to ensure that California's water supply will be used to its maximum potential. This week my bill, House Resolution 2578 which will allow the Merced Irrigation District to propose a 10-foot modification to their spillway gates at the New Exchequer Dam passed through the House Committee on Natural Resources. The next step for the bill is the House floor. If passed, my bill will begin to solve the regulatory problems that arise during water shortages.
Currently, the MID is discussing a proposal to raise the spillway gates at the New Exchequer Dam by 10 feet. This proposal would create an added capacity to store an extra 70,000 acre-feet of water during three summer months of a wet year, like this past one (an acre-foot will cover an area of one acre to a depth of one foot). This past year, the area that would be used to store this additional water was naturally inundated by the high flows with no adverse impacts to wildlife or the local Mariposa economy, but because we weren't able to effectively store the water, we could not utilize this resource to create renewable energy and many Valley jobs. For the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to be able to consider the project proposed by the MID, Congress will first have to pass my bipartisan bill, H.R. 2578.
In 1964, FERC licensed the MID to store water and generate power at the New Exchequer Dam site. The Merced Irrigation District is in the process of renewing this license to continue its operations and reliable service to their customers. Through the FERC licensing process, there will be ample opportunities for public comment, as well as the necessary state and federal requirements for environmental protection. H.R. 2578 does nothing to weaken the environmental stewardship considerations FERC will discuss with the MID during the process.
I introduced H.R. 2578 to address the very real water concerns in the Central Valley. Projects like this are the type of creative solutions needed to navigate through California's burdensome environmental regulations. Until compromises like this can be signed into law, the residents of California will continue to struggle through water crises during drought years.
Water truly is the most important job creator in the Central Valley. I have made it a priority to maintain a steady focus on water policies impacting California. I will keep working for solutions to the water conveyance and storage issues in the Central Valley to create jobs and grow our local economy.
The author is the congressman from California's 19th District.
By allowing the man-made Lake McClure to expand, a bill written by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, would aid growers during dry years. It would also, for the first time ever, allow inundation of a waterway that's protected as a National Wild and Scenic River.
"We should be able to adjust those boundaries if it serves the greater good," Denham said, adding that "the bill is common-sense legislation that would lead to desperately needed water storage."
But critics contend the measure would "do real harm to the Merced Wild and Scenic River," as Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., put it Wednesday, and its long-term prospects in the Senate are unclear.
The House Natural Resources Committee approved the Merced River bill along with some 20 others that, taken together, largely underscore House Republican sentiments toward public land and water policies.
Another bill approved Wednesday, for instance, would exempt all border control projects including fences and roads from some three dozen environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act.
And one written by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay, would block the Western Area Power Administration from using federal stimulus funds for new wind and solar energy projects.
Driving home the political point, McClintock repeatedly invoked the name of Solyndra, the now-notorious California solar energy firm that went bankrupt despite $528 million in federal loan guarantees.
The Merced River bill would give the Merced Irrigation District the opportunity to modify New Exchequer Dam by adding gates atop the current emergency spillway. This $40 million project would allow the irrigation district to store an additional 70,000 acre-feet of water.
Currently, an average of 300,000 acre-feet of water annually is provided through New Exchequer Dam.
Even if Denham's bill passes, the final decision on expanding Lake McClure would be up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will be considering a hydroelectric power license application that's up for renewal in 2014.
The legal wrinkle is that expanding Lake McClure would inundate roughly half a mile of a river that’s part of the National Wild and Scenic River system. The wild-and-scenic river law specifies that protected rivers "shall be preserved in a free-flowing condition."
But Denham's bill would provide a loophole to that protection.
Nationwide, portions of more than 200 rivers are covered under the wild-and-scenic river law, first written in 1968. Currently, 122.5 miles of the Merced River are covered, under bills approved by Congress in 1987 and 1992.
"This legislation, in preserving one of the Central Valley's most precious resources, will ensure that this portion of the river is protected and preserved for our future generations," then-Rep. Gary Condit, D-Ceres, said at the time of the 1992 action.
On Wednesday, Denham countered that Congress should be able to undo what it once did.