Feinstein, Padilla to Interior: Prioritize California Drought Projects when Disbursing Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Funds


Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla (both D-Calif.) today called on the Interior Department to prioritize $8.3 billion in Western water infrastructure funding for California projects that will promote preparedness and resiliency to climate-driven droughts.

“The single-benefit and narrowly-supported approaches of the past won’t get us through the current and future droughts,” the senators wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Haaland.

“Instead, we must reckon with our ‘new normal’ and work together to advance a more diversified water strategy that meets multiple needs. Therefore, as you work to implement the western water infrastructure funding in the IIJA, we respectfully urge you to expedite program implementation; support projects that provide multiple benefits; restore imperiled ecosystems; ensure clean, safe and affordable drinking water for communities; and improve climate-resiliency.”

In addition to the letter, the senators sent an attachment to Secretary Haaland with a more detailed description of their requests regarding programs funded by the bill. The letter and attachment are available here.

The $8.3 billion was included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was signed into law by President Biden in November. Following is the breakdown for drought funding in the bill:

  • $1 billion for water recycling.
  • $1.15 billion for storage and conveyance projects.
  • $250 million for desalination projects.
  • $3.2 billion for aging Bureau of Reclamation infrastructure.
  • $900 million for environmental restoration and water conservation.
  • $1 billion for rural water projects.
  • $500 million for dam safety projects.
  • $300 million for Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.

Text of the letter follows:

December 17, 2021

The Honorable Deb Haaland
Secretary, Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20240

Dear Secretary Haaland,

We write to urge you to prioritize California projects designed to counter extreme climate-driven droughts as you implement the $8.3 billion in western water infrastructure funding in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 80% of California is in extreme or exceptional drought. Many of our major reservoirs have reached record low levels, we are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, and communities across the state face serious water supply challenges that risk access to clean, safe drinking water for all. With more dry weather expected this winter, this drought could become the worst since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Moreover, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is projected to diminish to scarce levels for decade-long intervals by the 2050s, according to a recent study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Within just 30 years, this will leave California vulnerable to devastating droughts of much longer duration than we are currently prepared to endure.

It is in response to these impacts of the climate crisis in California and other western states that Congress provided funding to preserve our water supply, especially for disadvantaged communities and our freshwater and anadromous species. We must aggressively expand recycling, conservation, desalination, storm-water capture and other sustainable methods of increasing our water supply; make major investments to store water above and below ground; ensure sufficient instream flows and restore habitat in California’s Bay-Delta and other imperiled river systems; and maintain and restore aquatic ecosystems to help reverse the biodiversity crisis.

The single-benefit and narrowly-supported approaches of the past won’t get us through the current and future droughts. Instead, we must reckon with our “new normal” and work together to advance a more diversified water strategy that meets multiple needs. Therefore, as you work to implement the western water infrastructure funding in the IIJA, we respectfully urge you to expedite program implementation; support projects that provide multiple benefits; restore imperiled ecosystems; ensure clean, safe and affordable drinking water for communities; and improve climate-resiliency. We ask that you prioritize the following (not listed in priority order):

  • Multi-benefit storage projects and Central Valley canal restorations as explained further in the attachment;
  • Planning/design funding and expediting feasibility approvals for large water recycling projects with the potential to transform urban water supply;
  • Increasing the project spending cap and conducting outreach to accelerate smaller water recycling or groundwater reclamation projects;
  • Restoration of biodiversity, especially threatened and endangered fish species, including by ensuring sufficient river flows and habitat;
  • Multi-benefit agricultural conservation projects across the state, but especially in the Central Valley;
  • Designing nature-based projects to improve drought resilience;
  • Expediting the BF Sisk Dam Seismic Retrofit by agreeing to the same cost-share rules for all public water agencies;
  • Expediting the delivery of funds for aging infrastructure, and emphasizing projects that upgrade aging infrastructure for multiple benefits including environmental benefits and resiliency to drought and extreme weather;
  • Desalination projects, especially those that result in energy and cost savings or reduce environmental impacts;
  • Coordination with water users on Colorado River drought planning, including on Salton Sea restoration;
  • Modeling the new small storage grant program after the successful Title XVI grant program to expedite project delivery; and
  • Enhancing water monitoring systems to improve understanding of hydrological impacts of a changing climate and to better inform management decisions.

Thank you for your consideration of California’s priorities, which are set forth in more detail in the attachment. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us or have your staff contact John Watts in Senator Feinstein’s office or Sarah Swig in Senator Padilla’s office. 

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