President Signs Landmark Water Legislation

On Friday, President Barack Obama signed landmark federal water legislation supported by the California Chamber of Commerce. The CalChamber had urged the President to sign the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN) because it will greatly benefit California’s ability to thrive in future years by allowing water regulators to make the best use of water to benefit all parts of the state.

In a statement President Obama said the measure “has both short-term and long-term provisions related to addressing the continuing drought in California. In the long-term, it invests in a number of water projects to promote water storage and supply, flood control, desalination, and water recycling. These projects will help assure that California is more resilient in the face of growing water demands and drought-based uncertainty.”

The legislation is the result of months of hard work involving California representatives in Congress: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and his fellow Congress members, and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-San Francisco).

S.612 cleared the U.S. House of Representatives on December 7 with a 360-61 vote, then passed the U.S. Senate on December 9 on a vote of 78-21.

Key Provisions

Of key importance to California are the provisions that balance the state’s ability to move water at certain times of the year to benefit downstream users such as farmers, businesses and cities, and still protect endangered species.

The movement of water is critically important to combat drought conditions existing in the state and to alleviate cuts to allocations from the federal and state water projects. Those allocations will be much more reliable with the water supply management flexibility the legislation will provide.

Stability and predictability are crucial for businesses throughout the state.

California is chronically short of water even in wet years. The funding provided in S. 612 will promote local water supply development, water recycling and reuse, desalination and water storage projects.

Expanding water storage is a top priority for the CalChamber. It is essential that the state has the ability to capture water in wet years or big storms, store it, and move it to areas in need, especially in dry years.

The additional funding for loans and grants will help communities struggling with aging water infrastructure, dry wells and poor water quality. Expanding the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act to include drought mitigation projects will expedite much-needed infrastructure, especially in low-income communities.

More Water

It is estimated the legislation will bring an additional 200,000 acre-feet of water on average each year to the Central Valley and Southern California. That’s enough to supply the annual needs of about 446,000 households of 4.

The legislation authorizes $335 million to support development of surface water storage projects, such as five in the CalFed program that could provide 1 million to 1.5 million acre-feet of additional storage (through reservoirs at Shasta, Site, Los Vaqueros, Temperance Flat and San Luis).

In addition, it updates the federal Water Desalination Act ($30 million), authorizes a new Title XVI water recycling and reuse grant program ($50 million) and increases the WaterSMART authorization ($100 million) focusing on water conservation, reclamation, efficiency and recycling projects.

Other provisions in the legislation aim to help rebuild endangered species and remove predator fish that prey on those species.

Staff Contact: Valerie Nera