Congress Acts to Restart Canal Lining Project

Short Title
Congress Acts to Restart Canal Lining Project
Bill on President’s Desk to End Litigation that Halted Project
December 11, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Reaffirming Congress’ landmark 1988 legislation to conserve water from earthen canals that carry Colorado River water in California’s Imperial Valley, the House and Senate early Saturday morning passed legislation directing immediate implementation of the project to line the All American Canal in the Imperial Valley. The project was interrupted earlier this year due to a federal court lawsuit.

The legislation was included in H.R. 6111, a broader bill that extends an array of tax breaks that would have expired at the end of 2006. Language in the bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to complete the construction project promptly. By making the project mandatory, or non-discretionary, the law preempts legal challenges brought against the project on a host of legal theories. Construction on the $251 million project began in July 2006 following dismissal of the lawsuit by the federal district court, but was halted in August by the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The court heard oral arguments on the appeal on Dec. 4 and a decision was expected by early 2007.

“This Congressional action removes the major obstacle to the completion of this vital water supply project, which is a linchpin of the Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement,” said Jim Bond, chairman of the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “This bill will save millions in taxpayer and ratepayer dollars by eliminating additional construction delays and litigation expenses.

“The water conserved through this project is critical to San Diego County’s water supply and to water reliability that supports a $150 billion regional economy and the quality of life of more than 3 million people,” Bond said.

By replacing what are now earthen canals with a modern, concrete-lined canal, the project will conserve 67,700 acre-feet of Colorado River water each year. The water is part of California’s 4.4-million acre-foot basic annual apportionment. Of the conserved amount, 56,200 acre-feet will flow annually to the San Diego County Water Authority and the remaining 11,500 will go to the San Luis Rey Indian Settlement Parties each year.  In all, the Water Authority will receive nearly 6 million acre-feet over the 110-year term of the canal lining agreement.

Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, said the leadership of California Senator Dianne Feinstein, Nevada Senator Harry Reid and Arizona Senator Jon Kyl was instrumental in the bill’s passage.  In the House of Representatives, Rep. Duncan Hunter of El Cajon was a key champion for the bill.

“This action confirms that the water conserved by this project will be used in the United States, and that diplomacy, not litigation is the proper forum to address international environmental issues,” said Daniel Hentschke, general counsel for the San Diego County Water Authority. “While we are confident the appellate court would have confirmed the judgment in our favor, this action essentially makes the current litigation moot. We will file motions immediately after signature by the President asking the court to lift the injunction and dismiss the appeal.”
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