Federal drought aid headed to California | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Federal drought aid headed to California

Samantha Young / Associated Press Writer

RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. ” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pledged $260 million in federal stimulus money Wednesday to help California address its water shortages and aging infrastructure.

The money is part of the $1 billion announced by the Bureau of Reclamation for water projects intended to create jobs across the West.

“In the midst of one of the deepest economic crises in our history, Californians have been saddled with a drought that is putting tens of thousands of people out of work and devastating entire communities,” Salazar said in a statement. “President Obama’s economic recovery plan will not only create jobs on basic water infrastructure projects, but it will help address both the short- and long-term water supply challenges the Golden State is facing.”

California’s share will fund a host of projects, including new groundwater wells, rock barriers intended to improve water quality in the delta, fish screens at Red Bluff Diversion dam and at the Contra Costa canal.

An additional $135 million will be available for grants for water reuse and recycling projects.

Salazar was expected to discuss the funding at a news conference at Mather Air Force Base in the Sacramento suburb of Rancho Cordova after completing an aerial tour of the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta.

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Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger accompanied the secretary on the helicopter tour Wednesday, nearly two months after he declared a California state emergency because of the drought. That order directed state agencies to provide assistance to drought-affected communities and businesses, and called for a statewide conservation campaign.

The delta sits at the confluence of two of California’s largest rivers. It’s the hub of the state’s water supply, channeling fresh water from Northern California to massive pumps that send the water to 25 million people and millions of acres of farmland.

Three years of dry years combined with federal restrictions on pumping designed to protect a threatened fish from getting sucked into the pumps has led to water cutbacks across the state.

The state has said it will deliver only 20 percent of the water typically allocated for cities and farms this year. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has said it will not deliver any water this spring to farms south of the delta.

Such low delivery estimates prompted farmers to leave large swaths of land unplanted this season, and residents in cities stretching from the Northern California city of Redding to San Diego have been told to scale back their water use.

Southern California’s regional water wholesaler voted Tuesday to tighten deliveries and raise fees for its 26 member agencies, which supply all or some of the water used by 19 million Southern Californians.

An estimated 2,500 people, many of them farmworkers, are in the midst of a four-day march across California’s agricultural heartland to protest the lack of available water.

From Sacramento, Salazar was scheduled to travel to San Francisco to announce earthquake monitoring funding from the U.S. Geological Survey. The following day he’ll lead a public hearing in San Francisco about offshore drilling and alternative energy development.