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Date: July 30, 2015
Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-Calif.) introduced the California Emergency Drought Relief Act on July 29, a bill with both short- and long-term provisions designed to help communities cope with the ongoing drought and combat future droughts.
The bill includes a range of provisions with the goals of moving and creating water long-term to help those communities suffering the worst effects of the drought, while remaining compliant with environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act as well as all biological opinions.
A summary of the key provisions follows:
Assistance for drought-stricken communities
Many rural and disadvantaged communities throughout California are at risk of running out of clean water. Approximately 2,091 wells are already dry or will soon run dry, endangering thousands of families. As more wells and other water supplies dry up, the federal government has an obligation to step up and help those communities and families.
Major desalination projects like the $1 billion Poseidon plant in Carlsbad (which will soon generate enough water to supply 300,000 San Diego County residents) prove that new technology is quickly making desalination a viable option for many communities. The bill would enable the federal government to help support desalination projects and research, with the goal of further reducing costs and environmental impacts.
Given the consensus that droughts will grow more severe and the storms that follow more devastating, storing water during wet years for use in dry years is vital. The severity of this drought has highlighted the inadequacy of California’s reservoir capacity. The bill takes steps to promote the building of new reservoirs or increasing the capacity of existing reservoirs.
Major advancements have been made in the field of water recycling. Orange County Water District, for example, recently completed an expansion of its water reuse facility to provide more than 100 million gallons per day. As communities continue to conserve water, more can be done to support these projects.
Conservation and groundwater recharge
Communities throughout California are subject to mandatory conservation rates as high as 35 percent. As consumers do more to save water, there are additional steps that can be taken by government and the agriculture industry.
Additional funding programs
By providing funds for the most cost-effective federal programs, Washington can help state and local agencies leverage existing dollars into larger projects.
Research and innovation
Making sure the newest and most cost-effective technology is available will continue to address the worst effects of the drought. Supporting and utilizing the latest science is a key goal of the bill.
Protecting endangered and threatened fish and wildlife
There are a number of short-term, low-cost proposals to protect and assist in the protection and recovery of fish populations including salmon and smelt.
Moving water to communities that need it most
Provisions in the bill to help move water efficiently to those areas where it is most needed were carefully drafted to remain consistent with environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, as well as all biological opinions.
These provisions, closely based on the 2014 Feinstein/Boxer legislation that was unanimously approved by the Senate, include changes limited to additional environmental and water rights protections and the removal of several controversial provisions.
Environmental protections added since 2014 bill:
Provisions included from 2014 Senate bill to help move water to areas that most need it:
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