Water Soaks the Special Session in California3 min read

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When Governor Schwarzenegger declared a special legislative session last week to tackle health care and water, we knew it was going to get heated in Sacramento. So we’ve been burning the midnight oil, talking with legislators at the state Capitol and meeting with newspaper editorial boards to make sure that Californians are getting the best value for their dollar while protecting the environment and public health.

The special session is now in high gear with two dueling proposals for new water bonds – SBXX 2 from Senate President pro Tempore Don Perata and SBXX 3 from the Governor (introduced in the Legislature by Senators Cogdill and Ackerman). There are also two proposals for how to direct existing bond monies to Delta restoration – Perata’s SBXX 1 and the Governor’s (introduced by Senator Cogdill and Assembly Member Villines) SBXX 4. Legislators plan to place a water bond on the February ballot for statewide voter approval.

Perata’s Bond Package

Senator Perata’s SBXX 1 and SBXX 2 provide a comprehensive package to address the crisis in the Delta. SBXX 1 maximizes existing funds and ensures they are used to stabilize the Delta. SBXX 2, his bond proposal, provides $5.8 billion to develop new regional water supplies, including water recycling, water conservation, groundwater protection, groundwater cleanup and stormwater capture.

Implementing these strategies ensures that we invest in the projects that State and federal studies, including the California Water Plan, have determined have the greatest water supply potential and are the most cost-effective. These options also have the advantage of increasing water supplies within each region of California, thus reducing reliance on unsustainable water exports from the fragile Delta.

PCL applauds the leadership of Senator Perata (and SBXX’s two co-authors: Senators Machado and Steinberg) in addressing the critical water supply reliability, water quality and ecosystem needs in California. We support this bond package and will work to garner broad support in moving cost-effective solutions such as these forward.

The Governor’s Bond Package

The Governor’s proposed $9.085 billion water bond measure directs billions of taxpayer dollars to projects that will take decades to implement and will produce relatively little water.

This proposal would inappropriately allocate $5.1 billion for construction of three costly and damaging dams. While state and federal agencies have studied these dams for years, not one of these dams has been proven to be cost-effective or environmentally acceptable. In fact, state and federal agencies have not been able to find even one willing local partner to contract for the resulting water at the anticipated cost. Taxpayers should not be asked to subsidize projects that so obviously fail the cost-effectiveness test.

PCL strongly opposes any bond proposal that provides funding for construction of unneeded, harmful dams when other more cost-effective and environmentally beneficial sources of water are available.

California must fund effective solutions to solve its pressing water problems. PCL is working to ensure that investments made today are targeted to resolve these specific problems in a cost-effective, timely, and proven way. The crisis in the Delta and the resulting legal decisions demonstrate that an over-reliance on water supply from the fragile Delta puts at risk not only the largest estuary on the West Coast, but also California’s economy.

PCL is asking the Legislature to take a responsible course of action and only ask voters to pay for projects that are proven and cost-effective. We’ll keep you updated as the special session continues!

Gary Patton is the Executive Director of the Planning and Conservation League, a statewide, nonprofit lobbying organization. For more than thirty years, PCL has fought to develop a body of environmental laws in California that is the best in the United States. PCL staff review virtually every environmental bill that comes before the California Legislature each year. It has testified in support or opposition of thousands of bills to strengthen California’s environmental laws and fight off rollbacks of environmental protections.

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