A federal committee last week approved a program that includes about $63 million in funding for the improvement and expansion of water infrastructure. If approved by Congress, more than $15 million in upgrades could be dedicated to San Juan Bautista and Hollister, according to U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren’s office.

The funds were approved by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The funds were passed as part of the Water Resources Development Act, a biannual authorization of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Program. 

“Proper water infrastructure—that prevents contamination and allows for clean drinking water—is a basic need in communities,” Lofgren said in a press release. “As our country faces the effects of extreme heat, prolonged droughts and more severe storms, it is vital to make investments that improve resiliency and expand our water supply.

“The provisions included for our often-overlooked Central Coast communities will either improve water resources outright or set the stage for future upgrades.”

The program includes $15 million for the San Juan Bautista Water Supply Project; and $5 million for the Hollister Downtown Water Line Replacement Project. Also approved was San Benito County’s Soap Lake Storage Improvements Feasibility study. 

Lofgren’s office noted that the funds have not been appropriated and will require a separate congressional approval. 

The City of San Juan Bautista has struggled to provide safe drinking water because there is excessive groundwater salt content, says the press release. If approved, the city would use the federal funding to find a solution to connect its water system to the nearby San Benito County Water District. The import of water will dilute the city’s groundwater to have acceptable salt content levels.

The downtown area of the City of Hollister is currently served by old, brittle cast iron water pipes, Lofgren’s office said. These pipes have experienced frequent water main breaks, in part due to seismic activity from the nearby Calaveras fault. Additionally, the current water supply system does not meet fire code flow regulations. 

The $5 million in federal funding would allow the city to replace the cast iron lines with modern PVC pipes to substantially improve the city’s water distribution system, says the press release.

The committee’s passage of the act also included a feasibility study of San Felipe (Soap) Lake in San Benito County. The lake, which fills during times of high rain, serves to regulate flows released into the Pajaro River. 

The Pajaro River has repeatedly flooded, most recently during the March 2023 atmospheric river storms. The study would examine the feasibility of increasing the detention and/or retention volume within Soap Lake for flood risk reduction downstream of the lake, according to Lofgren’s office.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correctly note that the funds approved by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure have not yet been appropriated by Congress.

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