Lawmakers Seek to Apply High-Speed Rail Funds to Water Projects

RIVERSIDE (CNS) - Riverside County's two Republican congressmen today joined other lawmakers in co-sponsoring legislation that would convert funds earmarked for the problem-plagued California High-Speed Rail Project into appropriations for the construction of water storage facilities that fortify the state against the next drought.

House Resolution 1600, the Repurposing Assets to Increase Long-term Water Availability & Yield -- RAILWAY -- Act, would utilize $929 million that the Trump administration has already rescinded for the High-Speed Rail Project, as well as $2.5 billion that was allocated to the project during the Obama presidency and that the Federal Railway Administration wants returned, for water infrastructure projects.

``The RAILWAY Act repurposes funding from the most wasteful project in California's history and invests it into some of our most critical water storage projects,'' Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, said. ``That's a win for taxpayers and a win for California's future.

``We know California experiences periods of drought, followed by periods of significant rainfall,'' he said. ``The RAILWAY Act provides a common sense solution to this problem by building storage projects to capture more water in wet years in order to sustain California families and our economy through the dry years. It's time to stop watching water be diverted into the ocean and start acting to capture and store that water.''

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Temecula, said that water storage is ``California's greatest need,'' while the California High-Speed Rail Project is the state's ``biggest waste of time.''

``The RAILWAY Act corrects this problem by implementing a plan to address a significant concern in our state by investing significant and critical resources to ensure we have water availability for the future,'' he said.

According to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, who introduced HR 1600, the bill would ensure funding for at least five dam expansion and reservoir improvement projects that, when completed, could provide 5 million acre-feet of additional water storage statewide. The congressman said funds would also be available for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enhance programs for rural well water conservation.

In his State of the State Address last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged that the goal of building a bullet train between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, as envisioned by former Gov. Jerry Brown, was untenable. The current estimated price tag is $77 billion -- a roughly 70 percent jump from the costs projected at the start of the decade, according to published reports.

The governor said he wanted to take ``all the unallocated money and focus it, with intensity, with transparency, with increased level of scrutiny'' on a segment of the line that still seems viable, connecting Merced and Bakersfield on a 171-mile track that could be completed by 2027. There was no word on what passenger loads might be, whether the rail system would be self- sustaining after completion, or require taxpayer subsidies to operate.

Sen. Jeff Stone, R-La Quinta, last month introduced Senate Bill 340, which seeks to prohibit state authorities from selling the remaining $6.6 billion in general obligation bonds authorized under Proposition 1A, the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century.

According to the California Department of Finance, $3.3 billion of the voter-approved float has gone to market since 2009, and of that, $2.6 billion must still be amortized.

SB 340 is under review by the Senate Transportation Committee.

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