Federal agencies would be given more operational flexibility in maximizing water projects in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta while still satisfying the needs of protected species like the delta smelt. They would be directed to pump as much water as possible south of the Delta when there are drought conditions, and continue doing so for two normal water years after the drought has ended. The decision making process for water projects would be streamlined to ensure that decisions are made in an expedited manner. If there is not expected to be any harm to protected species, federal agencies would be directed to increase pumping operations.
Protected fisheries — including the delta smelt — would be monitored using the most accurate survey methods available to determine how water projects could be maximized without causing significant impacts to the smelt. For salmon fisheries, agencies would be directed to identify management actions other than reducing the pumping of water that could enhance salmon recovery. This would be accomplished by quantifying the benefit to salmon species from reductions in pumping.
The permitting process for constructing new dams and reservoirs would be consolidated to eliminate redundant permits that multiple agencies require for federal and non-federal projects. This “one-stop-shop” would coordinate all reviews, analysis, opinions, permits, licenses or other required federal approvals for proposed projects.
For the construction of large multi-purpose dams and reservoirs, the feasibility study must be completed within three years of it being started, and cost no more than $3 million to the federal government. This could be extended by seven years if the Secretary of the Interior (DOI) provides a detailed justification to Congress. To reduce duplications in the review process, the DOI and the non-federal project sponsor (in this case a state agency) would work together on conducting an expedited environmental review.
Water users — like irrigation districts and water utilities — would be able to pre-pay their repayment contracts for using Bureau of Reclamation facilities instead of having to pay them over the long term. This allows the irrigation districts and water utilities to avoid being subject to land-use restrictions and paperwork requirements that they are required to comply with as long as they are in the debt of the Bureau of Reclamation. Current federal law prohibits those contracts from being repaid early, thus forcing water users to make small, long-term repayments.
To better fulfill the Bureau of Reclamation’s dam safety responsibility, the Bureau could study and construct improvements to dams and reservoirs if they are found to be feasible. Beneficiaries of the project would contribute to paying for such projects. Current law prohibits the Bureau from considering structural improvements while it is making safety repairs.
The Depts. of the Interior and Agriculture would be prohibited from conditioning or withholding the issuance, renewal, amendments, or extension of land use permits based on the limitation of water rights. Federal agencies would also be prohibited from requiring water users to apply for or acquire a water right in the name of the U.S. under state law to access the water. These provisions reaffirms the rights of states to develop their own systems of water law by preventing the federal government from asserting jurisdiction over those water rights.