After a decade of debate, Congress has passed a $395 million California water bill, sending the landmark legislation to the president for his signature.
The bill to authorize the California Federal Bay-Delta Program, better known as CalFed, aims to restore California's Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and ensure a reliable water supply for millions of users. It represents the first major changes to California's water systems since the 1960s.
"This historic bill is a giant step forward in resolving California's water supply problems," said Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, chairman of the House Resources Committee.
The CalFed bill seeks to satisfy groups of farmers, environmentalists and residential users with provisions on storage, restoration and recycling.
It authorizes feasibility studies for several major new storage projects, among them enlarging Los Vaqueros reservoir in Contra Costa County and raising the Shasta Dam.
It also authorizes $90 million for ecosystem restoration programs, contains provisions to expedite approvals of 49 recycling projects, and includes an Environmental Water Account to ensure water for fisheries.
Final approval came in the House after Pombo and other House members decided they would accept the version of the bill passed by the Senate last month. The bill leaves out so-called pre-authorization language that would have allowed the secretary of the interior to approve specific water storage projects without congressional approval.
Some California House Republicans believed the pre-authorization language was needed to ensure needed storage projects would get built. In the end they were satisfied with language in the bill that requires Congress to act quickly to approve the projects once feasibility studies have been conducted.
If Congress fails to act, the interior secretary would have to declare the CalFed program "out of balance" and recommend ways to regain balance between environmental and storage measures.