The Senate early Saturday passed a broad package of new water law that could expand water storage at New Melones Reservoir, increase hatcheries, and target non-native fish in the Stanislaus River, sending the major legislation to President Barack Obama.

Billed by its authors as drought relief, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act and Water Resources Development Act include water diversions that benefit farmers and authorizes more than $550 million for storage, recycling and desalination projects. The legislation does not identify what specific storage projects will receive funding.

Senate bill clerk information shows the bill package passed 78-21, with the Golden State’s two Democratic senators split. The White House has not issued a veto threat for the bill. Press Secretary Josh Earnest last week said the president will look at the entire bill before deciding whether to sign it into law.

Tom Haglund, general manager for Tuolumne Utilities District, said the law package is generally encouraging for the development of new water storage in California.

“We look forward to examining the bill in detail to determine how we might avail ourselves through provisions of the bill to develop water storage for TUD customers,” Haglund said Tuesday afternoon.

Newly elected TUD board member Bob Rucker, who promised in his campaign he will try to secure permanent water rights for TUD, said the new bill contains “county of origin” language so he is encouraged.

“We might be able to get water rights out of this language,” Rucker said Tuesday afternoon at the end of his first meeting as a member of the TUD board. “There are a lot of good things in there for the Stanislaus, as well, including targeting predation and increasing hatcheries.”

Rucker, a district director for 10th District Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, said he intends to go into semi-retirement from his position with Denham in January.

Dave Eggerton, general manager for Calaveras County Water District, thanked 4th District Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville, for making sure the bill includes a provision that the federal Reclamation commissioner will work with local water and irrigation districts in the Stanislaus River basin to maximize water storage and ensure beneficial use of the water resources.

“This bill could provide the district with the ability to use its water within the basin, provide a backup supply for the Columbia Air Attack Base and to meet our obligations under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act to help address the need for groundwater recharge in the critically overdrafted Eastern San Joaquin Groundwater Basin,” Eggerton said.

Eggerton said his staff are optimistic Obama will see the bipartisan legislation as worthy of his signature.

“We have sent a letter of support to that effect,” Eggerton said. “We’re still optimistic, given the overwhelming support in both houses of Congress, that it will be successful even if the President vetoes it.”

Two water agencies with senior rights in the Stanislaus River watershed, the Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts, also support the new legislation.

General managers for the two districts on Monday touted the water bill as good news for people who want to see the salmon population increase in the Stanislaus River.

Key language in the legislation encourages closer collaboration between local agencies and the federal Bureau of Reclamation to optimize storage at New Melones, the largest capacity reservoir on the Stanislaus, said Steve Knell of Oakdale Irrigation District and Peter Rietkerk of South San Joaquin Irrigation District.

The bill includes the Save our Salmon Act, introduced by Denham, that passed the House in July. It directs the National Marines Fisheries Service to work with OID and SSJID to reduce threats posed to young salmon and steelhead trout by striped bass and other predators.

Research conducted for the districts has shown as many as 95 percent of young salmon in the Stanislaus River and other Central Valley waterways are eaten by predators before they can make their way through the Delta and into the ocean.

“We believe passage of this legislation will allow the Stanislaus River to be a blueprint for how water management, resource management and fisheries management can collectively be combined to attain important regional solutions,” Knell said.

Jack Cox of the Lake Tulloch Alliance, which represents property owners and home owners on the reservoir below New Melones, said the new federal water bill passed by Congress last week can dramatically increase the number of fish in Central California rivers through expansion of fish hatcheries instead of implementing a State Water Resources Control Board goal to increase water flows in rivers to increase salmon.

The Lake Tulloch Alliance opposes the State Water Board plan because doubling the amount of water being flushed down central California rivers to increase salmon numbers will reduce the amount of stored water and water available for agricultural and consumer uses.

“The proposal by the State Water Board will only push 1104 Salmon into the Delta and the Bay at a cost of $250 million at a minimum to our region,” Cox said.

The State Water Resources Control Board plan would impact agriculture, business, real estate property values and quality of life for the Lake Tulloch area and other communities, Cox said.

The alliance is urging people to attend a State Water Resources Control Board hearing Dec. 20 in Modesto.

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