Legislators unite on water project studies

WASHINGTON -- San Joaquin Valley lawmakers Thursday united behind revised legislation to study and authorize some $2 billion worth of California water projects.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, is meant to offset water losses caused by restoring the San Joaquin River. It authorizes studies of 28 projects, which include building new canals and improving existing facilities.

"It is irresponsible to push forward with a plan to settle the San Joaquin river dispute unless that plan takes seriously our regional water supply challenges," Nunes said.

In a controversial move, the Nunes bill declares that any project deemed feasible is also approved for construction. Normally, Congress requires separate authorization for projects once their feasibility has been studied.

Similar so-called preauthorization language has been opposed in past water fights by lawmakers such as Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

Nunes was able to rally support from both sides of the aisle after modifying his bill.

This happened quickly. He wrote the original bill on his own, and planned to introduce it as early as Wednesday. He did not talk about it beforehand with Rep. George Radanovich, the Mariposa Republican who is chief author of a San Joaquin River restoration bill.

Radanovich's $500 million restoration bill would fund the work necessary to restore more water flows and eventually salmon to the San Joaquin below Friant Dam.

By Thursday, though, Radanovich approached Nunes and indicated his interest in the bill. Radanovich joined Reps. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, in co-sponsoring the legislation that Nunes had been planning to introduce as a solo effort.

"I am highly concerned about moving forward with legislation to restore the river without dealing with the consequences of transferring ... water away from small communities and local farmers," Nunes said in a prepared statement. "I believe there is a growing recognition of these concerns in Congress."

The river restoration plan would cut Friant-area irrigation deliveries by an estimated 19 percent. Supporters of the river restoration effort are now trying to find the money to offset some of the cost of the work.

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0006.