New Year ... New Water Fight
California water troubles are a complex and very political issue. In 2009, Schwarzenegger and the Legislature negotiated a deal to create both a new water policy and a water bond to finance public water projects. The price tag of the water bond in ended up topping $11 Billion. In 2010 and 2012, the bond was pulled from the ballot fearing that Californians would not approve the measure. The policy parts of the deal drafted in 2009 have moved forward, but many of the mandates and new water regulations remain unfunded.
Senator Lois Wolk has introduced new legislation (SB 42), the California Clean, Secure Water Supply and Delta Recovery Act of 2014 to start the water bond negotiations all over again. Wolk has called her legislation a “fresh start” to deal with California challenging water issues.
Senate Bill 42 will provide funding for ecosystem restoration and levee stability projects necessary to addressing the crisis in the Delta—the heart of the state’s water system, a fertile agricultural region, the largest estuary in the western hemisphere, and habitat to hundreds of animal and plant species, according to a statement from Wolk's Office.
Wolk’s bill has been criticized for being too “Delta centric” and for not dealing with other water issues in the northern and southern parts of the state.
Two other bills have also been introduced into the Senate to reopen the existing water bond, and declaring the legislative intent of the bond and reducing the overall price tag. Those two bills have been introduced by Senator Rubio (D-Bakersfield) and Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills).
It is yet to be seen which legislation will gain traction, but it is clear that a water bond will be a priority of the legislature. New water storage facilities must remain a critical part of the water bond. California’s increasing population demands more water and we cannot continue to manage our water supplies in crisis mode.
Additionally, there will be a lot of discussion about the controversial “peripheral tunnel”, which is supported by Governor Brown and the Obama administration. Governor Brown in no stranger to California water troubles, it was an issue he dealt with three decades ago when he was our Governor the first time. He has committed that water will be one of his top priorities.
With many new legislators and the historic democratic supermajority in both the Senate and the Assembly, this year’s water wars are sure to be much different than 2009. This issue is critically important to the future of agriculture in California. The focus cannot just be on the health of the Delta but, on how we get out of the mess we have gotten ourselves into.
It seems that agriculture is constantly being asked to give up more and more water. In 2009 the water community agreed to conservation measures that have already been put into place. In return, they were promised additional water storage and the protection of water rights. It is clear that the agricultural community has lived up to their side of the bargain but, the promises that were made to them have yet to come to fruition.
The bond is not scheduled until the 2014 ballot, so it is doubtful that the water bond negotiations will be resolved soon. Many of the early discussions will involve educating one of the largest freshman classes of the Assembly since the 1960’s on California’s complex water issues. ■
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