House passes Valadao’s WATER Act

House of Representatives approves legislation that includes the congress member's WATER Act, which ensures reliable water supply in the Central Valley

(Rigo Moran)
Darren Fraser
Published November 1, 2023  • 
12:00 pm

CENTRAL VALLEY – The House has recently passed a bill that will ensure residents of the Central Valley have continued access to a clean and reliable water supply.

The House of Representatives approved the bill, H.R. 4394, on Oct. 26. Congressmember David Valadao, 22nd District, authored the Working to Advance Tangible and Effective Reforms (WATER) for California Act, which – at Valadao’s insistence – was included in H.R. 4394. 

According to Valadao’s office, WATER guarantees that Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) water stakeholders, including Friant Water Authority, Westlands Water District, Kern County Water Agency, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority, will receive the water they contract and pay for.

“For too long, complex and contradictory laws that control how much water we’re able to pump, and what storage projects we’re able to build and use, have amplified water shortage problems across the western United States,” Valadao said via press release.

According to the release, WATER was necessary because for the two years prior to 2023’s record rainfall, these stakeholders received 0% of their water allocation from the CVP.

H.R. 4394

The working title of H.R. 4394 is Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (Act) for Fiscal Year 2024. WATER is included in Title V of the Act.

Under the “NO REDIRECTED ADVERSE IMPACTS” section, the Act states, “The Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Commerce shall not carry out any specific action authorized under the applicable provisions of this subtitle that would directly or through State agency action indirectly result in the involuntary reduction of water supply to an individual, district, or agency that has in effect a contract for water with the SWP or the CVP, including settlement, exchange, and refuge contracts, and Friant Division contracts.”

This means the departments of Interior and Commerce cannot take any action that would negatively affect someone’s water supply if they contract for water with the SWP or CVP, such as special water agreements and contracts with the Friant Division.

Under the “OPERATIONS AND REVIEWS” section, the Act states, “The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce shall implement their statutory authorities in a manner that improves water supply reliability and enables the CVP and SWP to provide maximum quantity of water supplies practicable to CVP agricultural, municipal, and industrial contractors, water service or repayment contractors, water rights settlement contractors, exchange contractors, refuge contractors, and SWP contractors, in accordance with the Preferred Alternative, NOAA Biological Opinion, and FWS Biological Opinion.”

This means the Interior and Commerce departments should work to improve the water supply and implement policies to provide as much water as they can to different types of contractors, such as farmers and towns.

BIOPS

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires projects of a scale such as CVP and SWP to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to ensure that the construction and operation of these projects do not jeopardize endangered species or destroy critical habitats. The result of these consultations is a biological opinion (BiOp) issued by the agency or agencies.

In 2016, the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) began developing a new, coordinated long-term operations plan for CVP and SWP. The new plan required what is called a “reinitiation of consultation,” as mandated by the ESA – which is when new data emerges that details concerns for endangered species that may be affected by a project. Accordingly, Reclamation and DWR consulted with FWS and NMFS for their respective BiOps.

H.R. 4394 references NOAA, which is the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and is the parent agency of NMFS.

In 2019, FWS and NMFS released their BiOps, which found that Reclamation and DWR’s plan did not jeopardize threatened or endangered species; nor did it threaten designated critical habitats.

In 2021, the Biden Administration placed the BiOps on a list of regulations for review, effectively halting the plan from being implemented and jeopardizing water supply to the Central Valley.

By passing H.R. 4394, the House effectively removed the review delay and guaranteed that CVP and SWP operate per the 2019 BiOps.

CVP

According to Reclamation, CVP extends 400 miles through the Central Valley. Started in 1938 with the breaking of ground for Shasta Dam, CVP now includes 20 dams and reservoirs that hold nearly 12 million acre feet. The other major CVP facilities include Trinity Dam and Reservoir, Folsom Dam and Reservoir, New Melones Dam and Reservoir, Friant Dam and Reservoir, and San Luis Dam and Reservoir.

H.R. 4394 provides eligibility for funding the Shasta Enlargement Project. The project would add 18 1/2 feet to the dam and increase the holding capacity of Shasta Lake by 14%. The estimated cost is $1.3 billion. 

Opponents of the project argue it will result in flooding upriver from the dam, destroying sacred sites of the Winnemen Wintu people.

SWP

According to DWR, SWP is a multipurpose water storage and delivery system that extends over 705 miles – roughly two-thirds of the state. SWP includes the California Aqueduct, canals, pipelines, reservoirs and hydroelectric power facilities that deliver water to 27 million residents, 750,000 acres of farmland and businesses up and down the state. 

For the past 20 years, 34% of SWP’s water has been used for agriculture; 66% has been used for residential, municipal and industrial customers.

Darren Fraser
Reporter