The western United States — including the San Joaquin Valley — could see significant increases in water storage capacity due to legislation that passed the House of Representatives on Thursday.

Overcoming the continuing rancor in Congress, the legislation cleared the House with bipartisan backing and also has the support of the Senate’s Republican and Democratic leaders.

Valley Congressmen Jim Costa (D-Fresno) and Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) championed and played major roles in America’s Water Infrastructure Act, which is expected to be signed into law.

There are provisions supporting local irrigation districts and water agencies in their efforts to raise spillway gates, build new water storage facilities, and repair and expand dams, reservoirs, and other water projects.

“This legislation creates a pathway for the first new surface water storage in the Valley in decades. This is a victory for Merced County and the people of the Valley.” — Rep. Jim Costa

Raise Spillway Gates at New Exchequer Dam

Specifically, AWIA includes legislation introduced by Costa and co-led by Denham that would enable Merced Irrigation District to take the first steps forward with a project to raise the spillway gates at New Exchequer Dam. This would enlarge the storage capacity of Lake McClure, increasing water supplies for eastern Merced County up to 57,000 acre-feet.

The bill extends funding for a program restoring the seismic stability and eventual expansion of San Luis Reservoir. It also creates a pilot program in the Russian River Basin to develop a system for incorporating weather forecast into reservoir operations.

“This legislation creates a pathway for the first new surface water storage in the Valley in decades,” Costa said in a statement. “This is a victory for Merced County and the people of the Valley.”

“We need more water storage in the Valley and my bill will deliver more storage. Sacramento’s radical water grab makes this more important than ever.” — Rep. Jeff Denham

New Tool for Financing Water Projects

Language in the act authored by Denham would create a new tool for financing and building Central Valley water infrastructure projects.

“We need more water storage in the Valley and my bill will deliver more storage,” Denham said in a statement. “Sacramento’s radical water grab makes this more important than ever.”

The bill provides financing for water projects throughout the western U.S., including new reservoirs, below-ground storage projects, recycling, and desalination projects.

Denham’s provision in the WRDA bill authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to finance Bureau of Reclamation projects under the Water Infrastructure and Innovation Act program and sets a one-year deadline for execution.

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