California’s Salton Sea and state-straddling Lake Tahoe would receive funding for environmental restoration under a bill set for Senate approval Thursday.
More controversial water-related efforts remain stuck in Capitol Hill limbo, however.
Put simply, California’s diverse water ambitions face a complicated future in what remains of the 114th Congress.
Showing some progress, senators have groomed a bill that includes a 10-year, $415 million Lake Tahoe restoration package. The broader water resources development bill also authorizes help for the endangered Salton Sea, the much-diminished Los Angeles River and Sacramento-area flood control, among other projects.
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“This bill will save lives by helping to rebuild critical levee systems around the country, including levees to protect the capital of my state and surrounding communities,” Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said during debate.
Boxer is the senior Democrat, and former chair, of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The panel’s water resources bill, which spanned 286 pages before being amended, could be one of Boxer’s final legislative achievements before her retirement at the end of this year.
By an overwhelmingly bipartisan 94-3 vote, the Senate voted Wednesday afternoon to limit further debate, setting up a vote on passage Thursday.
On this bill, Boxer and her Democratic colleague, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, are closely aligned. Feinstein is the lead champion of the Lake Tahoe restoration package, which was added to the water resources legislation after originally being introduced as a stand-alone measure.
The bill directs money to fight the lake’s invasive species, manage Tahoe-area national forests, improve regional stormwater projects and more.
“The impressive public-private partnership in Tahoe has made great gains over the years, but more work remains to restore Tahoe’s greatness,” Feinstein said when she introduced her bill.
Intended as a biannual exercise, the Senate’s water resources development bill must still be reconciled with a House of Representatives version that has not yet been passed. The House version as currently written provides far less money for Lake Tahoe restoration, among other differences requiring further negotiations.
“I think we’ll get it done before the new Congress,” said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
While big, though, the Senate bill – which authorizes several dozen Army Corps of Engineers projects nationwide, as well as clean drinking-water efforts in Flint, Michigan – steers clear of major California reservoir proposals.
For these projects, such as Temperance Flat on the San Joaquin River and Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley, advocates seek separate legislation that’s been knocking around Capitol Hill for several years. The House version, introduced by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, also steers more water to San Joaquin Valley farms, among other provisions.
So far, Feinstein has not yet reached a compromise with House Republicans despite on-again, off-again negotiations that have periodically collapsed into mutual finger-pointing. Boxer has voiced environmental concerns and appears less driven to cut a deal.
The California water package has been tacked on to assorted other legislation, such as a fiscal 2017 energy and water appropriations bill, as well as existing in stand-alone form in the Senate.
“We’re still working on all of the above,” said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, one of the few House Democrats to support the GOP-authored California water bill.
At the Senate level, Costa added, “I know they’re in discussions; I don’t know how active (but) I know they’re talking to people, let me put it that way.”