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No California Funding for Friant-Kern Canal Fix

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Any hope that the state of California might kick in to fix the sagging Friant-Kern Canal was killed Thursday when a bill providing $400 million toward the effort was stripped of all funding.

Portrait of SJVWater.org chief executive officer Lois Henry

Lois Henry

SJV Water

The bill, SB 559 by State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, had been stuck in the suspense file (a kind of legislative purgatory) of the Assembly Appropriations Committee since the end of the 2019 Legislative session.

On Thursday, SB 559 was brought out of suspense and passed by Appropriations but only as a “study bill,” per Appropriations Chair Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego.

That means it no longer includes any money.

Cost of Fixing ‘Sag’ is $400 Million

The cost to fix a 33-mile-long “sag” in the Friant-Kern Canal is about $400 million, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the canal.

The Bureau is in the process of finishing environmental work on how best to fix the sagging section, which runs from near Pixley in southern Tulare County to Lake Woolomes in northern Kern County.

That sag, caused by excessive groundwater pumping near the canal, has severely restricted the amount of water able to move south from about 4,000 cubic feet per second to 1,400 cubic feet per second.

The Bureau has some money, about $50 million, which it has been spending on environmental and other pre-construction work.

It also requested another $70 million, which Congress is considering.

Assuming it gets that $70 million, that would bring the total on hand to $120 million, which Friant water contractors must then match.

If all that money comes in, it would give the Bureau about $240 million for construction.

That amount would be enough to rebuild the canal to carry between 2,500 and 3,000 CFS, Bureau Program Manager Adam Nickels told SJV Water in June.

Federal Bills by Feinstein, Cox Would Pay for Repairs

Without any real hope of money coming from California, the only other options for funding are two bills in Congress, one by Rep. T.J. Cox, D-Fresno, and one by Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The Cox bill, which would provide $200 million toward fixing the Friant-Kern Canal as well as the Delta-Mendota Canal, which brings water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta down to Mendota and is also suffering from land subsidence.

The bill was folded into a larger aid package related to the COVID-19 crisis and passed the House in late July. The Senate has yet to act on the bill.

The Feinstein bill would provide a like amount for both canals. It remains in committee.

About SJV Water

SJV Water is a nonprofit, independent online news publication covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Lois Henry is the CEO/editor of SJV Water. She can be reached at lois.henry@sjvwater.org. The website is www.sjvwater.org.

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email