Senate panel, following House, kills funding for CalFed water plan

WASHINGTON - A water pact between California and the U.S. government is set to expire this year, and its $60 million in funding has been removed from the pending federal budget. But supporters are confident the program that aims to drought-proof California will survive.

The Clinton administration's policy leader said Friday that the president may veto a $10 billion energy and water appropriations bill because it eliminates funding for the CalFed partnership.

''It's getting a little political and this shouldn't be political,'' Deputy Interior Secretary David J. Hayes said.

He spoke to Southern California water agency officials at a Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

CalFed is a loose consortium of representatives from federal, state and local water agencies. For five years, the partnership has been working on a master plan to protect water quality in San Francisco Bay and the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta while making California's water supply more reliable for farmers and cities.

Last month, Gov. Gray Davis and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt unveiled a 52-page outline for distributing water that will require state and federal legislative approval.

The Davis-Babbitt blueprint would raise the water level in key dams, restoring the delta and its tributaries, boosting water recycling and fixing the delta levee system.

But federal legislation that authorized the CalFed partnership expires Sept. 30 and Congress hasn't voted to renew it. Last month, the House voted to eliminate $60 million that President Clinton proposed for CalFed. The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted Tuesday to eliminate the funding.

The money would be spent on environmental reviews and infrastructure - preparation for an omnibus bill next year covering the federal government's share of a seven-year, $8.5 billion water plan.

If Congress fails to deal with CalFed this year, supporters warned it would be difficult to educate a new administration and lawmakers elected in November about the importance of the complicated program.

''We have a lot to lose,'' said Barry Nelson, a senior analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a conservation group.

Hayes said the $60 million would extend a program that already has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on watershed and levee restoration work.

''Probably the biggest loss would be the momentum of progress and the question of whether Congress is a full partner in this,'' Hayes said. He added that state support for the plan is strong, with Gov. Gray Davis pushing to use state money for as much as $450 million of the plan's $550 million estimated cost in the 2001-2002 fiscal year.

Overall funding of the plan should be roughly split between California and the federal government, with local governments contributing as well, Hayes said.

Hayes singled out Rep. John Doolittle, R-Rocklin, as a key member of the California delegation standing in the way of the appropriation.

Doolittle chairs the House Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power. He advocates expanding water storage through projects such as a dam on the upper American River in Auburn. Environmentalists oppose new dams.

Bob Faber, staff director of the House subcommittee, said Doolittle is drafting revised legislation to extend CalFed's authority. That bill should be made public next week.

Rep. Calvin Dooley, D-Hanford, a ranking member of the subcommittee, said through a spokesman that he is pessimistic Doolittle's legislation will be approved. But he expects Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-San Francisco, to restore funding because she serves on the appropriations committee that will reconcile budget differences between the Senate and House in September.

''We are working on it on our side to come up with funding,'' said Jim Hock, a Feinstein spokesman.

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Eds: Associated Press writer Leon Drouin Keith in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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