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Congressmen Costa, Denham, Garamendi, and McClintock Introduce Legislation to Update Water Infrastructure Projects

May 10, 2018
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – In their ongoing work to improve access to safe and reliable water, Congressmen Jim Costa (D-CA-16), Jeff Denham (R-CA-10), John Garamendi (D-CA-3), and Tom McClintock (R-CA-4) introduced H.R 5726, the Non-Federal Reservoir Operations Improvement Act, in the House of Representatives today. If enacted, the bipartisan legislation would resolve a technicality that impedes structural and operational improvements of water reservoirs and prevents reservoirs from functioning as efficiently as possible.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates the flood-control operations of many federal and non-federal reservoirs, guided by criteria set down in a “Water Control Manual” for each project. Up-to-date manuals, guidelines, and flood-control information help improve the efficiency of reservoir operation, creating more useable water. However, these manuals are often not reviewed and updated for decades by the Corps, who cite budget constraints. While current law allows the Corps to accept non-federal funds to review and update this information for Corps-owned reservoirs, it cannot accept similar funds for reservoirs not owned by the Corps, such as those owned by states, counties, or irrigation districts.

This effectually prevents dam owners, like Merced Irrigation District, from raising the spillway gates at New Exchequer Dam, because the project requires that the Corps updates the flood control manual for Lake McClure. The Non-Federal Reservoir Operations Improvement Act fixes this issue by allowing the Corps to accept non-federal funding to review and update operational documents and flood information for non-federal, locally-owned projects.

“This bill is a straightforward solution to a senseless problem that blocks improved water supply in the San Joaquin Valley, and in communities across the United States,” said Rep. Costa, lead sponsor on the bill. “Merced Irrigation District has been trying to raise the spillway gates at New Exchequer Dam to increase the carryover storage capacity of Lake McClure for years, but cannot move forward without updated operations guidelines and flood information. This project, when complete, will increase water supplies for eastern Merced County by 57,000 acre-feet during some years, and every additional acre-foot of water is vital to the future of our community. Merced Irrigation District is willing to pay to update the information and move the project forward, but the Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates Exchequer, indicated that the law prohibits it from accepting these non-federal funds. This is absurd, and I introduced the Non-Federal Reservoir Operations Improvement Act to remove this ridiculous obstacle from hindering progress in securing water for our Valley.” 

“We must address California’s lack of storage,” shared Rep. Denham, lead Republican on the legislation. “In the Valley, we’ve seen water tables dry up, community water systems completely empty, and the economic viability of some towns completely dried up as well. We must move this issue forward.”

Rep. Garamendi, an original cosponsor on the bill, stated, “Water is one of California’s most scarce and precious resources, but can also do incredible damage. By removing bureaucracy and making it easier for the Corps to update its operations manuals and flood control guidelines using modern data, this bill will increase water supply availability while also providing better flood protection for communities downstream of dams.”

“Droughts are nature’s fault. Water shortages are OUR fault,” said Rep. McClintock, who is also an original cosponsor on the legislation. “This bill is an important step in reforming the bureaucratic mess that has made it all but impossible to manage our crucial water supplies. After our local water agencies have spent years trying to satisfy one bureaucracy, another suddenly pops up to claim jurisdiction with an entirely new set of demands in an often endless permitting process. This bill will cut through the red tape and allow us to store more water from wet years so that we will have it in dry ones.” 

The Non-Federal Reservoir Operations Improvement Act was included as a provision in the Senate’s current version of the America’s Water Infrastructure Act, indicating support for the measure in the Senate.