Congress Approves Wash Plan to Benefit Wildlife, Water Conservation, Business
Doing the right thing for water storage, native species and industry took an act of Congress, with House and Senate voting to adopt a bill that allows these land uses to coexist in the Santa Ana River Wash in mutually beneficial ways, the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District announced today.
The Santa Ana River Wash Land Exchange Act allows for the ongoing expansion of sensitive habitat areas and water conservation, while establishing appropriate areas for mining operations that provide $36 million in payroll annually to the region.
Expected to be signed into law by President Trump, Senate Bill 47 clears the way for the Bureau of Land Management to exchange land with the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District under regulations in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
The 4,500-acre Wash Plan was developed over many years by a local Wash Plan Task Force made up of the cities of Highland and Redlands; the SBVWCD, East Valley Water District, and San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District; CEMEX, Robertson’s Ready Mix; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, Inland Valley Development Agency and the Endangered Habitats League.
“This legislation is an important step in helping local efforts that are good for the environment, good for the local water supply, and good for business and jobs in our region,” said Daniel Cozad, general manager of the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District.
Originally introduced as separate legislation by U.S. Reps Colonel Paul Cook (R-Apple Valley) and Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands), the Wash Planwas reintroduced this year by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) as SB 47, a companion bill that included more than 100 other pieces of legislation.
Cozad called its passage collaboration at its best.
“It shows that it is possible for both sides of the aisle and both houses to work together to help the communities they serve,” he said. “We really appreciate the work of everyone involved in bringing this legislation to life.”
Rep. Cook called the Wash Plan a win for the economy and a win for the environment. “This will align local land ownership with appropriate uses, setting aside already disturbed land for aggregate mining and setting aside important habitat for conservation purposes,” he said.
Rep. Aguilar agreed.
“The Wash Plan will empower industries to take root and flourish, continue investments in our transportation and infrastructure, and preserve our environment and regional wildlife. This is an important step forward for our communities,” he said.
Cozad said the land exchange will lead to more protection efforts for habitat, improved connectivity in the wildlife corridor, expanded water recharge and storage capacity, and the future establishment of public access and trails which, once built, would connect and help complete the Santa Ana River Trail.
“This project has been 15 years in the making,” Cozad said. “Doing a Habitat Conservation Plan with this many seemingly conflicting interests is unusual, particularly when you consider each has a different mission to implement.”