Republicans Pledge No Dams, No Water Deal As Negotiators Huddle

Assembly Republicans said Wednesday that they will reject any plan to improve the state's water supplies unless it includes funding for new dams.

The pledge came as legislators scheduled their first hearings in a special session called last month by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to deal with one of the state's most pressing problems.

"No surface storage, no deal," said GOP leader Mike Villines of Fresno. "The idea that we let millions of acre feet of water every year run to the ocean totally wasted is insanity."

Republican lawmakers want the state to help fund the proposed Sites Reservoir in a valley north of Sacramento, the Temperance Flat Reservoir in the Sierra foothills above Fresno and the expansion of the Los Vaqueros Reservoir built by Contra Costa County.

But how many dams and what proportion of the cost should be paid
by the state are open to negotiation, Villines said at a state Capitol news conference with an ornamental fish pond as a backdrop.

The Republicans said it isn't enough that dams could qualify for state money under a proposal by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland.

"We're not against dams," said Perata spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill. "We just feel they should compete with other projects."

Democrats say the state should emphasize water conservation and underground storage instead of dams.

Perata and Assembly Democrats issued similar responses to the Republican demands, saying ultimatums won't help already difficult negotiations.

"If we're going to get any kind of agreement, everybody's got to give a little," said Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, leader of a group of Assembly Democrats working on solutions to the state's water problems.

He said Democrats are likely to balk at Schwarzenegger's proposal that the state pay half the dams' cost.

Villines said underground storage and water conservation need to be part of any comprehensive deal, along with improving the movement of Northern California water to Southern California through the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Assembly Democrats plan the first in a series of hearings on the state's water problems Thursday.

Senate Democrats plan their first committee hearing on water proposals Monday, with a vote by the full Senate as early as Tuesday, Gledhill said.

"Everyone's committed to reaching a deal," she said.

Villines said he agreed with Perata that lawmakers should put a bond measure on the Feb. 5 presidential primary ballot to pay for water projects.

Republicans have enough votes to block any proposal they oppose.

The lawmakers said they want to move quickly in part because of a federal judge's recent ruling that could mean less water for farmers and communities in order to protect the collapsing population of delta smelt.

But Assembly Democrats have questioned the need to rush to put a bond measure on the February ballot.

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