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Drought spurs push for Calif. dams

WASHINGTON — California’s drought has sparked a new push by federal lawmakers to create or expand a handful of reservoirs around the state, escalating a political battle that former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger once referred to as a ‘‘holy war in some ways.’’

Government agencies have been studying five major water-storage projects for nearly two decades, with nothing to show for the effort so far.

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Meanwhile, the state’s water problems have only grown worse. California has had its third relatively dry winter in a row and court rulings have mandated that more water be released from reservoirs to sustain fish species in Northern California’s delta.

At the same time, the nation’s most populous state, at 38 million residents, continues to grow beyond the capacity of a water-storage and delivery system that was mostly completed in the late 1960s.

This winter is among the driest on record, forcing some communities to ration water and leading farmers to leave fallow thousands of acres that otherwise would be producing vegetables, fruits, and nuts for the nation.

The state Legislature is expected to debate water-storage options this year as it seeks compromise on a multibillion dollar water bond for the November ballot. But California’s congressional delegation has provided a jump-start.

Bills proposed in Congress would authorize a number of projects to expand or create reservoirs. Among the projects are raising the dam at Shasta Lake to store more water in California’s largest reservoir, creating a new reservoir in the Sierra Nevada along the upper San Joaquin River east of Fresno, and damming a valley north of Sacramento.

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