December 2016 - What’s the Story on California’s New Water Bill?

Over the weekend, President Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Bill, designed to fund a number of water projects across the nation. While this bill will undoubtedly have an effect on California's water supplies, many are wondering what those effects will be, why this bill was so contentious for Californian lawmakers, and what shape it can take under a Trump presidency.

WIIN was drafted by California Senator Barbara Boxer and a number of other legislators with hopes of alleviating the pressures of drought in California and improving water infrastructure across the United States. The bill provided $10 billion in total funding to water projects across the country, including over a billion dollars for California projects, and $170 million to address the lead Flint, Michigan's drinking water. Although WIIN had the potential to become a legacy bill for Sen. Boxer, she ended up becoming one of the most vocal opponents to it.

Her opposition was due to a 90-page rider to the bill written by Senator Dianne Feinstein and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. This rider gives an additional $335 million dollars to unspecified "water storage" projects throughout California, and also creates provisions for diverting increased quantities of water from the Delta and various river systems to Central Valley farmers. Boxer and other opponents claim that the provisions of this rider will harm a number of endangered fish species, ranging from the Delta Smelt to salmon, and that the unhealthy precedent of putting the needs of farmers ahead of native species will potentially weaken the Endangered Species Act. This disagreement has put an unhappy cap on what was a productive friendship by the two California Senators during 24 years of working together.

While signing the bill, President Obama attempted to reassure opponents by advocating for a cooperative relationship between federal and state governments in implementing the bill, and the President also encouraged "continued application and implementation of the Endangered Species Act." The real test of the bill and its implementation, however, will come when the Trump administration takes office. The new elected officials have the potential to interpret the bill, particularly the rider, in a manner that streamlines the construction of new dams and allows as much water as possible to be diverted to the Central Valley.

The long term effects that WIIN will have on California's water supply are uncertain. However, we can hope that in the short term California and the rest of the country are able to put the funding to good use by inmproving infrastructure and water security.