Move to Buy Water Project Is Dead

From a Times staff writer

The move by a group of San Joaquin Valley farmers to buy California’s vast federally owned water delivery system is dead, at least for this year, according to its chief congressional sponsor.

Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Rocklin), who heads the House subcommittee on water and power, announced Wednesday that “too many issues remain unresolved in the transfer of California’s Central Valley Project to advance the sale as part of the 1995-96 budget reconciliation process.”

Proponents of the sale had hoped to appeal to Congress’ growing interest in reducing the deficit by selling federal assets. A coalition of 65 San Joaquin water districts offered to pay $826 million for the huge network of dams, reservoirs and canals that provide tap water for more than 2 million state residents and irrigate 19,000 square miles of farmland.


The proposed sale ran into opposition from environmentalists and urban water districts who were uncomfortable with the prospect of a single interest group controlling such an important resource at a time when the state is struggling to develop a new formula for distributing water.

The sale was also opposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif). Her objections were based in part on an analysis by the Bank of America that strongly suggested that the $826-million offer was too low.

Built at a cost of $2.6 billion, which is still being paid off, the Central Valley Project was authorized in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Linking the state’s northern watershed with farms and cities up to 500 miles away, the project turned the Central Valley into the nation’s most productive agricultural region.