Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell toured a federal water storage and pumping plant in Byron today to get a firsthand look at a key piece of California's water infrastructure as the state grapples with a historic drought.
Jewell was accompanied by California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Acting Commissioner Lowell Pimley during the afternoon tour of the C.W. "Bill" Jones Pumping Plant.
The plant pumps water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and sends it through the middle of the state's Central Valley, including parts of Santa Clara, San Benito and San Joaquin counties.
Today's visit comes nearly two months after Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency and after President Barack Obama's recent 2015 Fiscal Year budget proposal to give $1 billion to the Bureau of Reclamation, including $118.6 million for the Central Valley Project, which provides water for much of California's Central Valley.
Jewell today reiterated the administration's commitment to work with the state to provide relief and fiscal support as the drought continues.
Last month, Brown also announced some $687 million in state funding for drought relief projects including emergency water supplies, food and housing for workers directly affected by the drought and local projects to help communities more efficiently capture and manage water.
"The administration remains committed to an 'all in' approach to the federal response to drought conditions in the West," Jewell said. "I commend Governor Brown and state officials for their response thus far, and I will continue to work closely with the state to ensure a balanced and coordinated approach to providing for the water needs of people, agriculture, businesses, power and the environment."
Before visiting the massive, five-story water storage and pumping facility in Byron this afternoon, the Secretary of the Interior and other federal and state officials met with farmers and representatives from the Central Valley Project.
"One of the reasons I'm here is to hear from people who are feeling the effects and the economic effects (the drought) is going to have on them," Jewell said.
The drought has prompted drastic cuts in water supplies to many of those people. The Byron facility, for example, is delivering just 25 percent of the amount of water it provides during a non-drought year, said plant maintenance manager Steve Larsen.
"That's a big hit for a lot of farmers," he said.
One key strategy to help farmers and municipalities that rely on water from the Byron plant and other facilities is increasing the amount of water that can be pumped when it rains, Jewell said.
It's also important for all California water users to use as little water possible to help weather the current drought, she said.
The interior secretary also touted the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the governor's plan to build two 35-mile tunnels to divert water from the Delta to millions of residents statewide.
She acknowledged, however, that the project has been controversial and said "there are choices to be made in terms of size and capacity" of the tunnels.
About a dozen protesters affiliated with Restore the Delta, opponents of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, held signs and chanted "Stop the Tunnels!" outside the plant gates this afternoon as Jewell, Laird and other officials were driven past.
Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, the group's executive director, said the state Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation in recent years have over-pumped water that should have been conserved, contributing to the current water crisis.
Restore the Delta along with a number of environmental groups and state lawmakers have said the governor's tunnel plan would drain the Delta and devastate both local farmers and fish populations.
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