Water Out of the Ashes

One of California's most persistent and divisive water problems is nearing solution. In a critical vote last week the House Interior Committee approved legislation to implement a state-federal agreement for joint operation of their giant water systems in the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

The agreement would permit the pumps of the federal Central Valley Project and the state Water Project to be managed in a fashion that would protect the environment of the estuary and make available a major new supply of water for potential use in the Central Valley and in Southern California. Notably, the pact would require the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for the first time to help maintain state water-quality standards in the delta.

The state-federal Coordinated Operating Agreement is a complicated technical arrangement that was under negotiation for about three decadesbetween the federal bureau and the state Department of Water Resources.

House Interior approval of the implementing bill was possibly the most rigorous test for the break-through pact. It was a major test, as well, of the direction and influence of Democratic Rep. George Miller of Contra Costa County as the new chairman of Interior's water and power subcommittee.

In the past, Miller has been anathema to many Central Valley and Southern California water-development aspirations. But now, working with two Valley Democrats, Reps. Tony Coelho and Richard H. Lehman, Miller has astutely forged a consensus out of the ashes of the 1982 Peripheral Canal battle and related animosities. His legislation serves all California, and may pave the way for creative solutions to other state water problems.

Speedy final approval of the Miller bill should be a priority for all California members of Congress when they return to Washington in September.

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