Bipartisan Consensus Builds for California Water Bond

SACRAMENTO, California, February 21, 2008 (ENS) – A secure water supply for California in the face of climate change and a court order to retain water in the Delta for an endangered fish were on the table today as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hosted a meeting with U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein of California. Around the table were state legislative leaders of both political parties and key stakeholders.

The Republican governor invited Feinstein, a Democrat, to help him jumpstart stalled negotiations on water infrastructure.

“Despite our current budget emergency, we still must address the severe water shortages that we are facing with court-ordered reductions in deliveries to Southern California, the Bay Area and the Central Valley,” the governor said.

Last spring, pumps in the San Joaquin Delta that deliver water to other parts of the state were shut down for the first time to protect a small fish called the Delta smelt.

In December, a federal court ruling restricted pumping operations of the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project while a new federal biological study for the Delta smelt is written.

Lake Oroville is the State Water
Project’s largest reservoir, and
the state’s second largest.
(Photo courtesy DWR)

Meanwhile, a new report from the state Department of Water Resources warns that the reliability of water deliveries through the State Water Project is eroding rapidly and will continue to do so unless the state takes action.

“It is critical that we stay focused on rebuilding our water infrastructure – the economy, the environment, hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and 25 million Californians depend on us finding a solution,” Schwarzenegger said. “The longer we wait the worse and more complicated the problem will get.”

The California Legislature has been unable to agree on a water bond, due to conflicting views on the use of taxpayer funds for dam projects. Some legislators have demanded that billions of public dollars be granted to specific dam projects with little legislative oversight.

Others, including Senate President pro Tem Don Perata, have insisted that bond funds should be allocated to the most competitive water supply projects, and that the Legislature should retain the authority to appropriate funding each year.

In December, the California Chamber of Commerce the Chamber submitted four versions of a water bond ballot initiative to the attorney general, each totaling about $11.7 billion, and each including over $3 billion for construction of dams.

Opponents of new taxes who do not see the need for water infrastructure say that if any of these initiatives is approved, California’s taxpayers would be committed to paying over $700 million in tax dollars per year to cover this new debt.

But despite differences of opinion, everyone at the meeting agreed that after two years of wrangling over water, this election year is the time to put a water bond on the ballot.

The governor said, “We went around the table and we asked each and every one, do you really feel in your gut that you want to get this done, and this is important? And they all said yes, with great enthusiasm.”

Senator Feinstein called the meeting “constructive” and stressed the urgency of rebuilding the state’s water infrastructure. “I can tell you that with climate change facing us right between the eyes, and the likelihood of the diminution of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, we have to be able to store some water from the wet years to use in the dry years,” she said.

“Just like climate change, with water in California there is no silver bullet,” Feinstein said. “You have to do a comprehensive plan that has groundwater recharge, that handles the problem of the Delta, which is the number one infrastructure problem in California.”

Schwarzenegger said he has confidence that Californians will approve a water bond as long as both parties are united on the initiative. “What made our infrastructure bonds successful in 2006, and why did the people approve $42 billion of infrastructure, was because Democrats and Republicans campaigned together. And so I think that if the Senator and I and other Democrats and Republicans campaign together, going up and down the state, this is going to be successful. The people will have trust in this package, and will vote yes.

Another meeting on water infrastructure will be held in two weeks, and in the meantime staffers from various legislative offices will work together to move forward.

“It’s extremely important for the state of California to have reliable and safe water for the future, because right now we cannot guarantee that,” Schwarzenegger said.

“And this is why we need an infrastructure, we have to rework our infrastructure and build for the population that we have, because the infrastructure that is in place right now is for 18 million people; in the meantime we are 37 million people,” he said. “By the time all of these water projects get built we will be 50 million people.”

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