After the helicopter flyover, Salazar told reporters that California's massive system of reservoirs, pumps and canals was outdated, built a half century ago and designed for a population half the size of today's 37.7 million.
He pledged that the federal government was ready to help California overhaul its system and deal with its drought.
"It is time to modernize, it is time to make hard choices, and it's time for the federal government to re-engage in full partnership with the 21st century water system for the state of California," he said.
The $260 million is part of $1 billion announced by the Bureau of Reclamation for water projects intended to create jobs across the West.
California's share will fund a host of projects, including new wells for farms and cities, temporary water lines to help feed orchards and grape vines year round, rock barriers intended to improve water quality in the delta and fish screens.