“Historic” Water Deal Puts Yolo and Other Delta Counties in a Bad Position –
Said Governor Schwarzenegger:
“Water is the lifeblood of everything we do in California. Without clean, reliable water, we cannot build, we cannot farm, we cannot grow and we cannot prosper. That is why I am so proud that the legislature, Democrats and Republicans, came together and tackled one of the most complicated issues in our state’s history. This comprehensive water package is an historic achievement.”
He went on to praise Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who helped push the legislative package to victory in the Senate.
“I particularly want to applaud the leadership of Senate President Darrell Steinberg. He has been a tireless leader, a relentless advocate for the environment and a true statesman.”
Proponents of the $11.1 billion comprehensive water package argue that will increase water storage, improve conveyance, promote delta restoration and better ecosystem protection, and will contain groundwater monitoring and ambitious conservation goals.
The bond measure will go to the voters for approval in November 2010.
There are five key provisions from the standpoint of supporters. First the increase storage capacity will enable more groundwater and surface storage that will allow California to capture excess water in wet years to use in dry years and thus will make our water supply more reliable year-to-year.
Second, they argue that improved local water conveyance can reduce water shortages by helping water districts to work together to prevent local shortages and take pressure off the Delta.
Third, will restore the Delta ecosystem which will allow California to take control of its own water systems. The federal court restrictions on Delta pumping are hurting California. A restored ecosystem will see those restrictions lifted, providing California a cleaner and more reliable water supply.
Fourth, California will be able to collect data on groundwater levels that could help better manage our water supply. This package also invests in groundwater clean-up – ridding it of chemicals and other contaminants to help protect the public’s health and restore local supplies.
Finally the plan establishes a conservation goal for California that establishes a statewide target to reduce urban per capita water use by 10% by 2015 and 20% by 2020.
The legislative leadership both Senator Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass also praised the legislation.
Said Speaker Bass:
“The package includes conservation and storage, groundwater protection, water rights protection, and Delta protection and represents the most significant water infrastructure and policy advances since the State Water Project in the 1960s. This is a responsible plan — no one is getting 100% of what they want. Everyone who gets something has to give something, too. It is the only way to balance the many different individual interests for the overall greater good of having a safe and stable water supply for the entire State of California.”
Senator Steinberg called it the “single biggest advance in water policy” in decade.
“Through hard work and compromise, we have taken a major step toward ensuring that Californians have a reliable water supply while protecting the natural resources that enhance our quality of life.”
Even national leaders like Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Senator Barbara Boxer are on board.
Said Secretary Salazar:
“Thanks to the California legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger, Californians now have the opportunity to choose a more secure and sustainable water future. This landmark package is a critical step toward bringing California’s water infrastructure into the 21st century while restoring California’s Bay Delta, on which millions of Californians depend for clean drinking water and their livelihoods. I applaud the leadership, courage, and vision of everyone who helped bring this desperately-needed legislation across the finish line. We will continue to need all hands on deck – at the federal, state, and local levels – in the coming months as we face the possibility of a fourth year of drought and sobering water realities.”
Senator Barbara Boxer in a press release said:
“I commend the legislature and the governor for their successful efforts to approve a comprehensive water package and bond measure that will be presented to California voters. While no legislation is perfect, the bipartisan spirit that led to the passage of these measures will move our state toward meeting the needs of our people, our farming communities and the environment. We must continue to work together, at the state and federal level, on pragmatic short-term and long-term solutions.”
Environmental groups were split on this legislation. Among the groups supporting the water package were the California League of Conservation Voters, The Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Audubon Society, the Bay Institute, and the Defenders of Wildlife.
However, another group of environmental interests were strongly opposed to the legislation including the Sierra Club California, Planning and Conservation League, Friends of the River, Butte Environmental Council, Restore the Delta, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), California Striped Bass Association, Clean Water Action, the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Winnemem Wintu Tribe, Center for Biological Diversity, Northern California River Watch, the Public Trust Alliance and the Environmental Protection Information Center.
Several major unions also opposed the legislation, including the California Teachers Association and SEIU, the five Delta counties and regional governments throughout the Sacramento region opposed the legislation also. The United Farmworkers Union also has $1 million in a war chest to fight the water bond.
Strong Environmental and Local Opposition
Strong opposition has come from Delta Protection groups such as Restore the Delta:
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director for Restore the Delta, issued the following statement regarding the water deal that was passed early this morning by lawmakers:
“The water package that passed in the dead of night epitomizes the dysfunction that has gripped our Legislative process. The package lost any semblance of rational debate and turned into a pork festival with the water bond ballooning to over $11 billion dollars. With our state already facing a massive debt and more red ink on the horizon, how can we afford this?”
Ms. Barrigan-Parilla added:
“In addition, the one bill that would have required a full fiscal analysis and a vote of the state legislature before the peripheral canal could be built, Huber-AB 13 7x, was killed by Legislative leadership because Southern California water interests viewed it as a ‘distraction.’ Since when is it a distraction to require fiscal analysis?”
Sportfisher groups have also opposed the deal as a blow to the collapsing fishing industry. Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermanan’s Associations:
“The Bay-Delta is not a reservoir; it is the most important estuary on the West coast and gives life to many of our coastal fisheries. With this bill, the health of the delta and our fisheries lies with an unfunded council with no authority. The majority of its members will be appointed by the governor, and Schwarzenegger has made it clear he is willing to drain the delta if it means more water for land speculators and developers. We have little faith this council will support and act on the pressing needs of our delta and our fisheries, especially if it means putting a halt to the south’s attempts at a water grab. This back-room, special-interest bill is fishy for sure, but definitely not because it will restore our industry to its former health.”
Among the strongest legislative opponents were Yolo Counties representatives in the Senate and Assembly, Senator Lois Wolk and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada.
Senator Wolk blasted the plan, painting it as a fiscally irresponsible plan that was filled with special-interest earmarks added during back-room deal-making.
She said on Wednesday:
“This plan will by no means solve the problems in the Delta. First of all, the Delta counties are not involved to the extent they should be and the changes are going to be significant.”
“There are multimillions of dollars for projects that have nothing to do with water.”
“The history of water in California has been that the user pays for what they use. This plan turns that on its head. It turns water rights on their head and financial mechanisms on their head and, at the end of the day there is no guarantee that there will be enough water to survive.”
Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada also strong opposed the legislation and issued forth the following statement:
“Early this morning, the Assembly voted on what has been called a historic agreement on California water policy and financing. Unfortunately, this agreement, negotiated in a ‘Big 5’ process behind closed-doors and involving a handful of non-Delta legislators, southern California water districts, and select environmental groups, fails to adequately protect the residents and economy of the area most affected—the Delta itself.
“I voted ‘NO’ on the whole bill package because of insufficient recognition of senior northern California and Delta water rights, imbalanced and non-elected representation in Delta governance, the lack of clear language explaining the interrelationships among a revamped Delta Protection Commission, the new Delta Stewardship Council and Delta Conservancy, and the remaining question as to what role a new Delta ‘Watermaster’ would play. This lack of clarity creates more confusion and less trust, at a time when we should be moving forward collaboratively to preserve northern California’s largest estuary.
“I understand the urgency of California water reform and do not doubt the sincerity of efforts to date. But change of this magnitude cannot be enacted based on a series of negotiations playing one group against the other while adding sweeteners to win support. Keeping Delta voices at bay and jamming a complicated set of water bills through the Legislature—including an $11 billion general obligation bond that will further bankrupt the State’s General Fund—is fiscally irresponsible and counterintuitive to solving California’s water problems.
“Californians and the Delta deserve better than this taped-together approach to water reform.”
Assemblymember Noreen Evans from Santa Rosa chairs the Assembly Budget Committee. She also issued a statement blasting the legislation.
“This water bond is an historic achievement for all the wrong reasons. It was crafted behind closed doors, never received a public vetting, and was passed on the fly in the middle of the night by legislators who lacked an adequate analysis of it. It brings our debt burden to historic new levels. And, for the first time, it requires the public across the state to finance half the cost of new dams and reservoirs benefiting private interests.
By passing this bond, the Legislature is flirting with financial disaster. Already, the state is unable to pay for services demanded by Californians. We’ve just gone through three horrific state budgets to close a $60 billion gap. And, more troubles lay ahead. We face an $8 billion gap next year and a $15 billion gap after that.
When discussing recent state budgets, the governor and others said the state could not afford to fully maintain its universities, community colleges, HIV/AIDS services, poison control centers, domestic violence shelters, state parks, health care for children, and in-home care for seniors and the disabled. Paying back this water bond will come at the expense of these services that Californians expect.
It’s the same tired story all over again. The Central Valley and Southern California plan to take water from the North by building a peripheral canal. The rub is that they want Northern California to pay for it too. All Northern Californians get from this bond is the privilege of paying the bill.”
Opponents of the bill are concerned with the back-room deal-making that marked the crafting and passage of the legislation, the lack of representation for the Delta Counties like Yolo, and the likelihood that this will lead the way for a peripheral canal that diverts water from the Delta to the South and will eventually lead to the demise and collapse of the Delta and the economy around it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting