President Barack Obama recently bestowed upon California and the nation a parting gift when he signed into law what has been described as a “massive infrastructure bill”.
The $12 billion legislation will assist in flood control, fund work on California’s dams and deliver more water to farmers in the state’s Central Valley in addition to a myriad of other infrastructure measures that will impact Southern California and the nation.
Despite the massive nature of the legislation, its passage was highly controversial and remains so. It took years for the measure, identified as the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, to work its way through both houses of Congress; however, when it finally passed after years of tough negotiations and what seemed to be endless debate, it did so with overwhelming (veto proof) bi-partisan support in both chambers.
To garner the votes needed for passage and remove the potential for veto, the legislation was sweetened with a number of items that have popular public support like clean water projects—one particularly targeted for the city of Flint, Michigan, among others.
When signing the bill the President stated, “Help for Flint, Michigan is a priority for this administration. It [the bill] authorizes vital water projects across the country to restore watersheds, improve waterways and flood control, and improve drinking water infrastructure.”
Despite the President’s optimistic presentation, opponents in California and environmentalists everywhere are concerned about the potential damage projects funded by the legislation could do to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The legislation included some $780 million for projects in West Sacramento; $880 million for work along the American and Sacramento rivers; $415 million for restoration efforts related to Lake Tahoe; and provides funding to study streams in the County of Merced.
According to legal analysts Faegre Baker Daniels, the measure also relaxes some environment regulations in Southern California. It will allow water to be diverted to this region for both agricultural and community uses. It also provides funding to support conservation efforts, storage projects and plans to improve efficiency and water recycling programs.
Retiring California Senator Barbara Boxer who served as the senior Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, helped draft the legislation; but in the end, voted against it after several riders were added to the bill that she considered “dangerous.”
Boxer and fellow California Senator Dianne Feinstein were in staunch opposition to each other on this legislation. Feinstein gave it full throated support, while Boxer (always an advocate for the environment) expressed her fears that rerouting water in the state could have negative implications for wildlife, the habitat in general as well as California’s commercial fishing industry.