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Water officials break ground on $187 million worth of repairs to Friant-Kern Canal

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
Water officials with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Department of the Interior, state Department of Water Resources and Friant Water Authority attended the groundbreaking ceremony on January 25, 2022.

The first phase involves replacing 10 miles of concrete canal lining to repair damage caused by land subsidence.

On Tuesday, construction began on a major part of central California’s water infrastructure.

At a groundbreaking ceremony in the Tulare County community of Terra Bella, officials with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Department of the Interior, state Department of Water Resources and Friant Water Authority kicked off repairs on a 33-mile stretch of the Friant-Kern Canal.

According to a Bureau of Reclamation press release, the canal, which helps deliver water to a million acres of farmland and 250,000 people, has lost more than half of its original water conveying capacity due to land subsidence caused by over-pumping of groundwater. The repairs, with a price tag of $187 million, are funded by the Friant Water Authority as well as the state and federal governments – including some of the $8.3 billion set aside by President Biden to the Bureau of Reclamation for water infrastructure projects.

“This project will increase water supply reliability in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary Tanya Trujillo at the groundbreaking event, “and symbolizes the benefits of working together with partners to develop ways to utilize the significant investment opportunities to modernize infrastructure that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law can provide.”

“Today’s groundbreaking is the culmination of five years of dedicated work to design and fund a project to address the most severe subsidence on any major canal in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Friant Water Authority CEO Jason Phillips. “While many water projects throughout the West take decades to plan and implement, this project is turning dirt today and will in a few short years restore critical water deliveries that support the San Joaquin Valley’s businesses, communities and farms.”

Also in attendance at the groundbreaking was State Senator Melissa Hurtado, who had attempted to set aside $785 million in state funding for water infrastructure projects in the State Water Resiliency Act of 2021 before it died in the State Assembly. “Now more than ever we need to secure clean water for generations to come,” she wrote in a press release following the event. “Today’s groundbreaking will allow us to conserve this precious natural resource that represents life, food, good health and so much more. This major milestone is the hard work of many men and women before me.”

Even though the bill failed, Governor Gavin Newsom’s adopted 2021-2022 budget included $100 million for canal repairs, and another $100 million has been proposed for this year.

Phase 1 of the repairs, comprising 10 miles of new concrete-lined canal near Terra Bella, is slated to be finished by January 2024.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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