BY JIM COSTA
Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting over.
In the Valley, we all know the phrase, coined by Mark Twain more than a century ago. It is tired, overused and just as accurate as ever.
The California water debate between farmers, environmentalists and city dwellers, and the legislators who represent them, has gone on for decades.
This regional conflict is the reason California’s congressional delegation and senators have not reached agreement on legislation to modify federal water policy and invest federal resources to fix the state’s broken water system.
Our challenge is to update outdated environmental policies and fix a water infrastructure system that is no longer capable of meeting the demands placed on it. For these reasons, my colleagues and I continue to advance water legislation to address California’s short- and long-term needs. We will not stop until we achieve success.
Concurrently, I am working on advancing regional projects that make incremental progress, providing more water to the people of the San Joaquin Valley. Some examples:
This summer, the Del Puerto Water District broke ground on the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program, which, when completed, will secure 30 percent of the water supply for its farmers in San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties. The NVRRWP is a regional solution to California’s water crisis and an excellent example of the innovative approaches Valley water agencies, municipalities, farmers and sportsmen are using to create additional resiliency to future droughts.
I worked with Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, to expedite permitting and secure federal funding for the project. When it is complete, an additional 48,000 acre-feet of secure water will be available to farmers.
As part of the NVRRWP, San Joaquin Valley wildlife refuges will receive an additional 6,000 acre-feet of water annually. This is not only beneficial for wildlife conservation and the species and sportsmen who rely on it, but is an important contributor to Merced County’s economy.
Additionally, last month, the House and Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes a feasibility study to reduce flooding along the Merced River. It allows Merced Irrigation District to advance funds to evaluate raising the spillway gates at New Exchequer Dam, increasing Merced County’s water-storage capacity by up to 70,000 acre-feet, meaning deliveries of up to 10,000 acre-feet each year. I am hopeful that an agreement will be reached by Congress and this legislation will become law before the end of the year.
Federal resources must be invested to improve our region’s drought resilience. Since 2012, I have helped to secure $233.1 million for projects to provide an additional 194,000 acre-feet of water to our Valley every year. That includes projects like the Intertie pipeline connecting the Delta-Mendota Canal to the California Aqueduct, increasing Valley water supplies by 89,000 acre-feet.
These regional projects provide more water to California’s farmers, who grow half the nation’s fruits and vegetables. California is the nation’s leading agriculture producer, providing about $47 billion in agriculture products in 2015. Yet less than 2.5 percent of Californians have a direct connection to the industry. This means we have nearly 38 million people to educate about how important Valley agriculture is to our economy and the security of our nation’s food supply.
To fix our broken water system, we must get the majority of Californians to understand their food does not come from a grocery store.
Clearly, our work is not done. Lawmakers must build on bipartisan consensus to increase development of regional solutions while working together to make policy changes and provide resources to fix California’s broken water system. As Valley residents, we must continue to educate people across the state who do not understand how our food is produced.
Our livelihoods – and theirs – depend on it.
Jim Costa represents California’s 16th Congressional District.