Previous Article
Next Article

Your authoritative, multi-channel network for natural resources and environmental information since 1989 – by practioners for practitioners.

Line Spacing+- AFont Size+- Print This Article Back To Homepage

Congress Passes Consolidated Appropriations Act, HR 133, Which Includes Funding for Several California Water Projects

Congress Passes Consolidated Appropriations Act, HR 133, Which Includes Funding for Several California Water Projects
Related Articles

By Geremy Holm and Steve Anderson

In December 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, HR 133, 166th Congress (2020) was passed and signed into law. The bill provides for the implementation of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, outlining significant support provisions and guidelines for water infrastructure projects nationwide. Additionally, the bill provides federal funding for several California water projects, with a majority of the projects located in the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, potentially providing for increased water supplies.


On December 21, 2020, Congress released a 5,500-page comprehensive appropriations package in advance of the vote on the matter. The “Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021” (HR 133) includes 12 appropriation bills, containing a $900 billion COVID-relief package and a $1.4 trillion government funding package that gives pandemic aid to Americans, while also securing federal agency operations through September 2021. HR 133 was approved with a 359-53 vote in the House of Representatives and a 92-6 vote in the Senate. President Donald Trump signed the measure into law on December 27, 2020.

HR 133 provides for appropriations for a large variety of governmental projects. For example, the measure provides $3.9 billion for rural development programs while also providing over $33 billion for law enforcement grants. In addition to myriad projects, HR 133 also contains a large number of provisions that will have a potential impact on water projects throughout the country. Specifically, HR 133 contains several provisions authorizing funding for several California water projects as well as incorporating the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA).

The Appropriations Act, the Water Resources Development Act and Water Projects in California

The WRDA authorizes $9.9 billion in federal funds for 46 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) projects, including those designed to achieve flood control, environmental restoration, coastal protection and other water infrastructure goals, as well as 27 feasibility studies and six comprehensive river basin studies. Additionally, the WRDA unlocks the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HTMF) by providing the authority to appropriate up to $1.5 billion annually in additional funds for harbor maintenance needs as well as providing additional Federal resources for the construction of inland waterways projects. The WRDA also reaffirms a commitment to greater use of natural and nature-based projects by ensuring that natural alternatives are fully evaluated by the Corps and are provided the same cost-share as structural alternatives.

In addition to the implementation of the WRDA, HR 133 also provides for funding for the following California water projects.

The Sites Reservoir Project

Under HR 133, the Sites Reservoir Project was awarded $13.7 million in federal funds. Situated on the west side of the Sacramento Valley, the Sites Reservoir Project seeks to substantially increase water supply flexibility and reliability in years of drought. Specifically, the Sites Reservoir does not rely on snowmelt, but instead seeks to capture winter runoff from uncontrolled streams below the existing reservoirs located in the Sacramento Valley. The project has previously received approximately $449 million from the USDA and $816 million from the State of California.

The Friant-Canal Repair Project

The Friant-Kern Canal is an aqueduct managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to convey water to augment irrigation capacity in Fresno, Tulare, and Kern counties. In November 2020, the Federal Government authorized nearly $5 million to study and begin pre-construction work on repairing the Friant-Kern Canal, a move that will significantly augment irrigation capacity in Fresno, Tulare, and Kern counties. The repairs seek to remedy a 33-mile stretch of the canal which has lost over half of its original capacity to convey water due to subsidence, also known as the sinking of earth from groundwater extraction. Under HR 133, $206 million in Federal funding is being set aside for the repairs, covering almost half of the estimated $500 million in repairs.

The Delta-Mendota Canal Repair Project

Located in central California, the Delta-Mendota Canal is a 117-mile-long aqueduct that supplies freshwater to uses downstream of the San Joaquin River. Much like the Friant-Kern Canal, the Delta-Mendota Canal faces issues caused by subsidence. Specifically, the repairs seek to remedy cracks in the Delta-Mendota Canal caused by subsidence. The funds provided by HR 133 may allow the project to proceed.

The San Luis Low Point Improvement Project

Jointly owned and operated by the Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources, the San Luis Reservoir stores water taken from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta. The San Luis Low Point Improvement Project seeks to address problems that occur when the reservoir falls below 300,000 acre-feet, typically in the summer and late fall. The low water level fosters algae growth, making the water unsuitable for municipal and industrial use. The funding provided by HR 133 may provide the first step in implementing the project.

The Los Vaqueros Reservoir Expansion Project

Owned and operated by the Contra Costa Water District, the Los Vaqueros Reservoir provides drinking water for approximately 550,000 customers in Contra Costa County. The Expansion Project would increase the reservoir’s capacity by more than 70 percent when complete. The project is estimated to cost $895 million, with $494 million covered by Proposition 1, which was approved in 2018. The federal government is expected to cover around 25 percent of the project’s costs, with the remaining expenses to be covered by local agencies that will benefit from the project. Funding provided by HR 133 will significantly help cover the costs of the project.

The Sacramento Regional Water Bank

Water providers in the Sacramento Region are developing the Sacramento Regional Water Bank, a groundwater storage program that seeks to improve regional water supply reliability. The water bank is intended to operate by coordinating the use of surface and groundwater. When surface supplies are plentiful, water providers in the region will draw more water from Folsom Lake or local rivers and use it to offset existing demand for groundwater. During dry years, recovery of stored groundwater will occur through additional pumping, resulting in a withdrawal from the water bank. Implementation of the project will occur in two phases. Local water providers have secured funding for Phase 1, which is currently underway. Federal funding may significantly cover the remaining $2.12 million to fully complete the project.

The Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir

The Del Puerto Water District and San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority supply federal Central Valley Project (CVP) supply water to farmlands in Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced, Fresno, and Madera counties. CVP water is pumped south from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta through the Delta-Mendota Canal. The Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir Project seeks to construct a new reservoir, where water from the Delta-Mendota Canal will be stored and released on a managed basis. The funding provided by HR 133 will provide for the initial stages of the project.

Conclusion and Implications

The Consolidated Appropriations Act may have had at its origin funding for Covid-19 related need–but over the months of wrangling the act took on omnibus proportions to achieve the votes needed for its passage. However, the Appropriations Act’s implementation of the WRDA demonstrates a federal commitment to improving water infrastructure nationwide. A majority of the projects outlined above seek to address water use in the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta area and tributary areas. While some of these projects may be years away from completion, the funding provided by HR 133 may ultimately have a notable impact on water use in California in the future. With a Biden administration now at the nation’s helm it will be interesting to see if any new or additional funding is appropriated for water projects in the state.