Santa Maria Mayor Larry Lavagnino announced Monday that a U.S. Senate committee has approved $6 million in the draft Senate version of the fiscal year 2009 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill to help stabilize and repair the Santa Maria River levee.

The approval follows a June 25 key House of Representatives committee approval of $8.5 million for the same purpose, in the House version of the appropriations bill. Both actions are critical first steps toward rehabilitation of the aging levee.

Securing federal funding is necessary for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin the first stage of the project design as well as potentially start construction efforts.

“This is great news and puts us into a strong position going into the fall, when the full House and Senate are scheduled to vote on these bills,” Lavagnino said. “The appearance of the appropriation in both the House and Senate version of the bill is to be celebrated. We recognize the hard work of our congressional and senatorial representatives, and we are counting on subsequent approvals and the president’s signature on the final bill.”

The city and the county of Santa Barbara have for several years partnered to lobby the federal government for funding to fix the levee, which was designed and built by the Corps of Engineers from 1959 to 1963.

The city and county staffs have lobbied members of Congress, including Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

In addition, the county has proceeded with some engineering work on alternatives to strengthen the levee. The city retained the services of a Washington, D.C.-based firm to assist in lobbying efforts, and the mayor has traveled several times to the nation’s Capitol to meet with elected representatives.

Mark van de Kamp is a city of Santa Maria management analyst.