Good morning, Chairman Fleming, Ranking Member Huffman, and Members of the Committee.
I appreciate the invitation to testify before you today on my legislation, H.R. 4366, the San Luis Drainage Resolution Act, which I introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year.
The district that I represent in California’s Central Valley has some of the most productive agriculture land in the entire world. Producing over 400 different commodities, it is safe to say my district plays a vital role in feeding the nation and the world. Many outside of agriculture don’t understand the complex and delicate systems involved in putting food on the table of American families. The San Luis Drainage Resolution Act, that we will be hearing today, helps ensure the land in Westlands Water district can continue to remain productive, while protecting the environment, and letting the federal government off the hook of potentially billions of dollars.
I would like to provide a brief background of the ongoing problem that the settlement contained in my bill aims to correct. In 1960, Congress passed the San Luis Act, which authorized the construction of and operation of the San Luis Unit as a part of the Central Valley Project (CVP). The principal purpose of the San Luis Unit was to furnish water for irrigation of land in Merced, Fresno, and Kings Counties in California. Any water project that brings fresh water to an agricultural area must take the salty subsurface water remaining after the crops have been irrigated away from the root zone. Too-shallow groundwater results in salt buildup in soils and reduces the productivity of farmland. For this reason, the San Luis Act expressly conditioned the construction of the San Luis Unit on the provision for drainage facilities.
The courts have held that the Secretary of the Interior was, and is, responsible for providing drainage to the San Luis Unit of the CVP. According to the Bureau of Reclamation, this is at the cost to the federal government of over $3.5 billion, indexed for inflation. Following litigation in the 1970’s, Interior stopped providing the drainage required for the San Luis Unit. This caused the destruction of thousands of acres of farm land.
After decades of litigation, appeals, and negotiations concerning the federal government’s obligation to construct an agriculture drainage unit to remove excess water on the Western side of the San Joaquin Valley, the United States Federal Government and Westland’s Water District have reached a settlement agreement to resolve the dispute.
The crux of the agreement is the requirement that Westland’s Water District assumes full responsibility for managing drainage within the District. In return, the federal government will relieve Westlands Water District of its existing repayment obligation for construction of the Central Valley Project.
While both the Federal Government and Westlands Water District have approved the terms of this agreement, Congress must affirm the recent settlement in order to achieve a final resolution.
I cannot stress enough the importance of this legislation so that we may finally end this decades old dispute. In doing so, we are able to protect the economic stability of the most productive agriculture region in the world by preserving agriculture production and as a result, safeguarding thousands of desperately needed jobs in the region.
Furthermore, passage of this legislation will shield American taxpayers from potentially billions of dollars in future drainage and litigation costs by relieving the United States of its multi-billion dollar statutory and court-ordered drainage obligation. The United States Government has already spent over $100 in previous settlements related to their failure to meet their drainage obligation.
In conclusion, this common-sense agreement reached by the federal government and Westlands Water District, and backed by both Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives, is absolutely imperative. Implementation of the San Luis Unit Drainage Resolution Act would settle this long-standing dispute, proving beneficial for all those involved.
Thank you for your time.