President Trump Friday directed federal agencies to streamline water-related regulatory burdens and streamline the environmental review process in a move that could expedite studies ranging from a proposal to increase the height of Shasta Dam to building the off-line Sites Reservoir to significantly increase water storage for urban, farming, and fish flow releases.
Congressman Jeff Denham, who along with other valley congressman has been pressing Trump for months to intervene, was called by the President Friday morning while touring a levee south of Manteca with assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Rickey James to join him at a ceremony signing the memorandum in Arizona.
The presidential order directly addresses hydroelectric relicensing at federal dams such as is now taking place at Don Pedro Reservoir on the Tuolumne River. It requires federal agencies to no longer ignore local plans such as the Tuolumne River Management Plan devised by the Turlock and Modesto irrigation districts.
TID and MID contend Sacramento bureaucrats are delivery slowing down the review process by using the National Marine Fisheries Service in a bid to substantially increase water release for fish.
While Trump’s order doesn’t guarantee any additional storage will be built per se, it is designed at eliminating duplicity on the federal level of the environmental review process and streamlining federal regulatory reviews in a bid to move projects forward.
The proposal to raise Shasta Dam — the linchpin and largest reservoir in the federally-operated Central Valley Water Project – by 18½ feet would create 630,00 acre feet of additional water storage. It would add 14 percent to the reservoir’s storage capacity that is now at 4.5 million acre feet.
Sites Reservoir — a state proposed “off-line” reservoir in Colusa County — would hold 1.8 million acre feet of water primarily for fish flows and environmental releases designed to stretch water supplies in dry years as well as during droughts.
Denham had the Army Corps assistant secretary in rural Manteca Friday to view the $11 million reconstruction of levees near Perrin Road south of Manteca that is now underway following a breach that farmers were able to plug before it lead to a complete collapse in February of 2017.
He also was lobbying the Army Corps officials to support his legislation that would essentially prevent the federal government from allowing the state to commander water from the federal New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River to significantly increase unimpaired fish flows. That has huge implications for the cities of Manteca, Tracy, and Lathrop, as well as farmers served by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and Oakdale Irrigation District that would be left with less water than they had during the recent drought during a wet water year in order to meet the state’s stated goal of increasing the salmon population by a little more than 1,000 fish on the Stanislaus, Merced, and Tuolumne rivers.
Project Manager Byron Lake was leading a tour of the levee project for James and his team when Denham received the call from President Trump to fly to Arizona immediately where he planned to announce the executive action designed to bring more water to the valley.
“This order will reduce regulatory burdens and promote more efficient environmental reviews of California water storage projects, ensuring that valley farmers and residents have a supply of water for generations to come,” Denham said from Arizona.
Ripon almond farmer Dave Phippen reacted to the news saying, “This is all the more reason the electorate should vote for Denham and not for Harder.”
Denham had sent a letter to the White House last month asking the President to take immediate action to stop Sacramento’s water grab effort on the three rivers and address the future of Don Pedro Reservoir.
State bureaucrats are trying to have endangered salmon introduced above Don Pedro on the Tuolumne River. If that happens language in the Endangered Species Act could then eat away at local water control and water rights.
Denham has secured the support of Secretary of the Interior Tyan Zinke and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in combatting the state’s Bay-Delta plan. His recent legislation to authorize financing of new water storage projects passed the U.S. House of Representatives recently as part of America’s Water Infrastructure Act and will soon be signed into law. The legislation will leverage non-federal investments to provide financing for expanding water storage.
Denham also included language to expedite the feasibility study for 200-year flood protection levels of Reclamation District 17 that includes the French Camp veterans’ facility as well as all of Lathrop outside of River Islands, southwest Manteca including the wastewater treatment plant, French Camp, and Weston Ranch.
The project will yield an estimated 84 percent reduction in expected annual property damage in the event of a levee failure in a 200-year flood while enhancing security at 262 critical infrastructure sites, 12 of which are considered essential to life safety.
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