Agriculture · Highlight

Newsom vetoes Friant-Kern Canal fix bill

California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have provided funding to fix the ever-sinking Friant-Kern Canal. 

State Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) introduced the bill back in 2018 and had strong bipartisan support, especially among her fellow Valley lawmakers. 

SB 559 would have required the Department of Water Resources to report to the legislature by March 31, 2021, on federal funding approved by the federal government for the Friant Water Authority or any other government agency to restore the capacity of the Friant-Kern Canal. 

The bill would also have required the Department of Water Resources to include a proposal for the state to pay a share up to 35 percent of the cost of the project.

Friant Water Authority CEO Jason Phillips called Newsom’s veto another “missed opportunity” for the state to help millions of Californians in agricultural communities. 

“The Friant Water Authority and the federal Bureau of Reclamation have worked hard for more than two years to design, plan, finance and implement needed damage repairs on the most important water delivery system on the eastside of the San Joaquin Valley, the Friant-Kern Canal,” Phillips said in a statement. “These repairs are necessary due to overuse of groundwater from lands outside of the canal’s service area, an overuse that has been exacerbated by decades of compounding water regulation by the State and federal governments. 

“SB 559 – a bill with bipartisan support – offered the State an opportunity to define appropriate terms for becoming a partner on the project. Unfortunately for the San Joaquin Valley, this is just the latest in a long history of snubs from Sacramento. The Governor’s message of needing to step back and take a more holistic approach rings hollow to the San Joaquin Valley; the real message this veto sends to the Valley is loud and clear, yet again: ‘Nope.'”

In his veto statement, Newsom took issue with the bill’s focus on the Friant-Kern Canal. 

“California’s major canal systems are aging and damaged by land subsidence,” Newsom wrote. “Local, state and federal systems all need repair. As established in the Water Resilience Portfolio, state agencies are holistically assessing the needs of all of California’s water supply systems. 

“This bill focuses on a single piece of conveyance and directs DWR (Department of Water Resources) to develop a proposal for the state to help fund this specific project. As we address California’s water needs in the coming months and years, we need to evaluate, develop and identify solutions and funding that provides water supply and conveyance for the entirety of the state, not one project at a time.” 

The bill that Newsom vetoed looked quite different from the one Hurtado initially introduced two years ago. 

Originally, SB 559 would have provided $400 million to fix the canal, but the Senate Appropriations Committee cut all funding and turned it into a study bill. 

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.