Schwarzenegger, Feinstein Propose $9.3B Water Bond

By: Juliet Williams AP
By: Juliet Williams AP

SACRAMENTO (AP) - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Thursday proposed a $9.3 billion bond to shore
up California's water supply through a combination of reservoirs and conservation projects.

Billions also would be spent to help the ecologically fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the heart of the state's intricate water-supply system.

Schwarzenegger hopes to win approval from leaders in the state Legislature and put the plan before voters in November.

The Republican governor and the state's senior senator, a Democrat, have been trying to broker a compromise on a long-term water deal for months. Earlier this year, Feinstein scolded fellow Democrats in the state Legislature for failing to engage in talks over a possible water bond.

She and Schwarzenegger have emphasized the urgency in upgrading
the state's decades-old system of reservoirs, pumps and canals.

An overview of the plan released Thursday, for example, states that additional reservoirs are needed to help "offset the climate change impacts of reduced snowpack and higher flood flows."

A month ago, Schwarzenegger proclaimed a statewide drought, noting that some local governments had already ordered conservation measures and that crops had been lost.

The Republican leaders of the Assembly and Senate reacted favorably to the proposal. The GOP has said that including money for reservoirs, a crucial point for Central Valley farmers, is key to getting their support for any water bond.

Senate Minority Leader Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, called the proposal a good starting point.

"Guaranteeing that the water flows when Californians turn on the tap isn't a Republican or Democrat issue, it's an issue that impacts everyone - regardless if you are a homeowner, business owner or farmer," he said in a statement.

Sen. President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, also has been a leading advocate for a water bond, although he has been skepticalof having the state foot the bill for new reservoirs. His focus has been on conservation and improving water quality.

Even with both sides desiring action, negotiations among legislative leaders have been stalled for more than a year. That in part is because of a philosophical debate over who should pay to build new dams.

Feinstein hoped to break the logjam when she came to Sacramento last February for a meeting with Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders. Despite calls for cooperation, talks failed to progress.

That prompted Feinstein to fire off a letter to Perata and then-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, in March, saying she was "deeply disappointed" that Democrats had not met with the governor and Republican leaders.

Thursday's announcement of a compromise plan is the first substantial movement since then, at least publicly.

The plan appears to offer something to Democrats, Republicans and environmentalists but would require all parties to compromise.

"I know that legislative leaders recognize the urgent need to address California's water crisis, and I look forward to working with them to present a plan to voters this November," Schwarzenegger said in a prepared statement.

Richard Stapler, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, said her office would not comment until it had time to read the proposal.

The Schwarzenegger-Feinstein plan includes:

  • $3 billion for reservoirs and other water storage projects. The costs of new water storage would be shared between the state and the local water providers who would benefit, a key sticking point in previous negotiations.
  • $2 billion in funding for regional projects to increase water-use efficiency, protect water quality, reduce energy use and agricultural runoff.
  • $1.9 billion for a plan to manage the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, modeled on the recommendations of a panel the governor appointed. The delta provides irrigation water for thousands of acres of cropland and supplies drinking water for two-thirds of the state.

The delta has emerged as one of California's most pressing issues.

It acts as a massive relay system for the state's water supply, with water from Northern California rivers flowing in and then being jettisoned through gigantic pumps to the San Francisco Bay area, Southern California and Central Valley farmers.

Environmentalists, sport fishing groups and some scientists contend those pumps are the main culprit for killing fish species throughout the delta. The population decline became so severe for the threatened Delta smelt that a federal judge last December ordered the state to reduce water pumping by a third.

This year, farmers and cities will receive just 35 percent of their contracted water from the state. Schwarzenegger and state water managers have pressed for a solution that ensures the state's long-term water supply while protecting the delta's environment.

One solution is a canal to route fresh water around the delta, eliminating - or greatly reducing - the need for the pumps.

The Schwarzenegger-Feinstein plan released Thursday does not specifically say whether it includes money for such a canal. A description released by the administration refers only to "improving water conveyance."

State Water Resources Director Lester Snow said the proposed ballot measure provides money for restorative work in the delta and "would prohibit using any bond money to build a canal."

Voters soundly rejected plans for such a "peripheral canal" in 1982, and many environmental groups oppose it.

Even if such a canal were part of a long-term plan, Thursday's proposal does not contain enough money to build one.

In April, the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, the panel Schwarzenegger appointed to study delta solutions, estimated that various options for pumping water around the delta would cost from
$4 billion to $17 billion.

Also included in the Schwarzenegger-Feinstein proposal released
Thursday is $1.3 billion for conservation programs along the Klamath, Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, and at the Salton Sea in the Southern California desert.

They also are seeking $800 million to improve groundwater quality and $250 million for water recycling projects.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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