Apr 17, 2009

California Gets $260 Million For Water Help

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar offers funds and mediating services

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently offered California $260 million as part of the federal stimulus plan to help repair the Central Valley’s water delivery system and protect threatened fish, The New York Times reported.

Salazar also offered to mediate in the battles to come over the allocation of water.

“There is a lot of passion around these issues,” Salazar said at a news conference with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “It is my wish that the Department of Interior can play a helpful role.”

Although much of the state’s surface water is controlled by the Bureau of Reclamation, an Interior Department agency, Salazar said he would not try to impose solutions on the state.

The $260 million is to be overseen by the state’s Department of Water Resources and will be distributed throughout the state’s complex water delivery system, which is often forced to maintain a fragile balance between environmental, agricultural and industrial interests and demands, the newspaper reported.

Of the federal money, the largest portion of nearly $110 million will be used to build a screened pumping plant to protect fish at a dam on the Sacramento River in Red Bluff, while also feeding more water to 150,000 acres of farmland.

A portion of about $20 million is earmarked to protect salmon and Delta smelt along the Contra Costa Canal. Approximately $40 million is allocated for immediate drought relief, including new wells in the Central Valley.

“Our hope is that some of this money can help farm workers,” Salazar said.

Lester A. Snow, director of the Department of Water Resources, said in a statement, “This is exactly the kind of immediate federal action we’ve been seeking.”

Approximately $26 million is allocated to help restore fisheries in the northern part of the state, where low numbers of fall Chinook salmon have led to the second cancelled salmon fishing season in a row.