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Swimming Upstream

July 21, 1986

Rarely have California interests been as united as they were last fall behind legislation of Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) to ratify a landmark federal-state agreement for coordinated operation of their giant water projects in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The plan would protect the fresh-water estuary from intrusion of salt water from San Francisco Bay. It also would make as much as 1 million acre-feet of additional water available for use by agricultural and urban customers of the state Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.

At long last, the federal project would be formally committed to working with the state to maintain delta water quality. In addition, Miller's bill would commit the federal government to observation of new standards to be set for the delta, and possibly for San Francisco Bay, in the next few years. Virtually every segment of the California water community--including many factions that traditionally battle each other--supported the Miller bill, as did environmental organizations.

But the Administration opposed it, in part because of the potential cost to the Bureau of Reclamation of providing the additional water needed to maintain the delta standards. This language was stripped from the Senate bill, which passed last week. The Senate version would merely authorize the secretary of the Interior to sign the agreement, already approved by the state.

In trying to minimize its obligation to delta water quality, the Administration continues to swim upstream against legislative and public opinion and state and federal court rulings. When the Senate-House conference committee meets to consider the two versions of the Coordinated Operating Agreement legislation, it should reject this attitude and restore the Miller language to the bill for final passage by Congress and signature by President Reagan.

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