California Water Managers Warn of Impending Crisis if Funding Runs Dry : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Water Managers Warn of Impending Crisis if Funding Runs Dry (AP) -- Water managers and farmers warn of a looming crisis on par with the state's power woes if federal and state lawmakers fail to overhaul California's massive water storage and delivery system. For the past few weeks, farm groups and water agencies from California have been pleading their case on Capitol Hill for increased funding for CalFed, the combined state and federal effort to improve water quality, make water deliveries more reliable for farmers and cities and protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay.

"Unless we invest in expanding the capacity of our water infrastructure, California will fall victim to another totally foreseeable crisis, for no other reason than its refusal to plan," Steve Hall, chief of the Association of California Water Agencies, told the House Water and Power Subcommittee on April 3.

Water managers say growth that will bring the state's population to 45 million residents by 2020, and increased water diversions for river restoration and wildlife needs, make it important that new reservoirs and underground water storage projects are approved and built soon.

Water and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif., is drafting a bill to reauthorize CalFed funding, but his aides won't say how much money he's mulling over.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also is writing CalFed legislation, and while her aides also are shy about revealing dollar amounts, water officials around the state expect her bill to include almost $2.5 billion.

Meanwhile, farmers and other major water buyers will be lighting up Congressional phone banks and clogging e-mail accounts with pleas for more federal dollars.

"We have been concerned for a long time that the CalFed proposals push water storage projects into the distance rather than moving on them as they should," said Dave Kravetz, spokesman for the powerful California Farm Bureau Federation.

CalFed is organized around 21 federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state's Department of Water Resources.

The final $8.6 billion, seven-year CalFed plan -- the nation's largest water management effort -- was announced last June by Gov. Gray Davis and former U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

So far this year, Davis has included $400 million in his budget for CalFed and the recently announced Bush administration budget allocates about $20 million. The federal dollars just don't add up for many veterans of California's protracted water wars.

"We have not built any major water facilities for quite a few years. We're basically living off the foresight of earlier generations who have kept us in water supplies for the last 20 years," said John Coburn, general manager of the State Water Contractors, an industry group representing 27 of the 29 public water agencies that purchase water from the state.

"While we are pleased that the Bush administration has chosen to highlight the importance of the CalFed program, we are disappointed with the amount of federal funds proposed for next year," CalFed Director Patrick Wright said in a written response.

The federal money appears targeted for the Environmental Water Account and administrative costs. Under the CalFed plan, the account's managers will buy a minimum of 200,000 acre feet of water a year to use for fish habitat improvements and river restoration. An acre foot of water is enough to supply five people for about a year.

The increased focus on environmental protection -- seemingly at the expense of farmers and rural water districts -- has sparked a handful of suits against CalFed, including one by the California Farm Bureau Federation and several Central Valley growers. Farmers say too much land and water is being taken out of production for wildlife habitat without any serious oversight by CalFed managers.

Adding to their water worries, a dry winter means farmers won't be given their full water allocations this year, with some areas being given just 40 percent of their contract amounts.

"We think between 100,000 and 150,000 acres won't be farmed this year because of the dry conditions," said farmer Ted Sheely, who grows 1,000 acres of cotton, tomatoes, garlic and pistachios on the west side of the arid San Joaquin Valley.

This year, precipitation likely will total about 70 percent of normal, which is not considered dry enough to be a drought. Farmers worry that if a real drought hits the state, water storage capacity just won't keep up with demand.

California's last drought, which stretched from 1987 to 1992, resulted in a $252 million loss to farmers in 1991, the worst year, according to state records.

In an effort to keep the water flowing, California voters last year approved a nearly $2 billion bond to finance water and environmental programs. About $630 million will go to improving water quality and groundwater storage. Nearly $470 million is set aside to protect watersheds, and flood-control measures account for nearly $300 million.

The bond also will be spent on pollution control, wastewater treatment, improvements to public water systems and conservation efforts.

"You have to plan for the future. You can't wait for the last minute and expect to solve the problem in six months," Coburn said.

-- Martin Thompson (, April 17, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ