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California | Central Valley | Environment & Forest Defense | Government & Elections

Governor Brown supports a new $6 billion water bond
by Dan Bacher
Wednesday Jun 25th, 2014 10:20 AM
“Some of the loudest opponents to SB 848 say they would like more money for the Delta, but they want to it controlled by those outside the Delta, without giving the Delta communities a place at the table,” emphasized Senator Lois Wolk. “That creates a North-South water war."

Photo of Governor Jerry Brown courtesy of Damien Luzzo.
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Governor Brown supports a new $6 billion water bond

by Dan Bacher

California Governor Jerry Brown told legislators in private meetings on Tuesday, June 24 that he opposes the existing $11.1 billion water bond and supports a $6 billion water bond instead.

The current water bond on the November ballot was created as part of a water policy/water bond package passed by the Legislature in a special session called by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in November 2009. The water bond was postponed on the November ballot twice, first in 2010 and then again in 2012, due to strong opposition to provisions in the bond that facilitate the construction of the twin tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Brown also reportedly told legislators that Republicans “must accept less than their stated priority of $3 billion” for water storage projects, according to Capitol Public Radio. (http://www.capradio.org/articles/2014/06/24/brown-opposes-existing-water-bond,-wants-$6-billion-replacement/)

"The Governor is concerned about ongoing debt service and its impact on future budgets," Brown spokesman Jim Evans said in a statement Monday.

However, the Governor’s Office has declined to comment on the specifics of the proposal, including whether any funding in the bond will help pay for mitigation for damage caused by the construction of two massive tunnels under the Delta proposed under Brown's Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).

Thursday, June 26, is the deadline for the Legislature to put bond measures on the November ballot. However, that deadline could be extended until the legislature adjourns for summer recess on July 3 - or possibly even until August.

Brown is a relentless advocate for the widely-criticized Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels - and looks at the tunnel plan, estimated to cost up to $67 billion, as a "legacy" project.

On Monday, June 23, Senator Lois Wolk’s new water bond, SB 848, failed to gain required two-thirds vote “due to Republican opposition and demands that the measure include more funding to enable the construction of two tunnels underneath the Delta to divert water to farming interests in the Southern San Joaquin Valley,” according to a statement from Wolk’s Office.

The vote was on party lines, with the Senate Democrats supporting the measure and the Senate Republicans voting against it.

The 22 yes votes were Beall, Corbett, Correa, De León, DeSaulnier, Evans, Galgiani, Hernandez, Hueso, Jackson, Lara, Leno, Lieu, Liu, Mitchell, Monning, Padilla, Pavley, Roth, Steinberg, Torres, and Wolk, all Democrats.

The no votes were Anderson, Berryhill, Fuller, Huff, Knight, Morrell, Vidak, Walters, Wyland, all Republicans.

No votes were recorded by Block, Calderon, Cannella, Gaines, Hancock, Hill, Nielsen, Wright and Yee.

Three of those recorded not voting - Leland Yee of San Francisco, Ron Calderon of Montebello and Rod Wright of Inglewood - were suspended from the State Senate with pay this March. Senators Yee and Calderon were indicted in separate federal corruption cases, while Senator Wright will be sentenced on July 21 on criminal charges that he lied about where he lived when he ran for office in 2008. (http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/rod-wright/#storylink=cpy)

Wolk says failed vote was "missed opportunity"

“Yesterday’s vote was a missed opportunity,” said Senator Wolk. “It was especially disappointing to see my Republican colleagues from Northern California tie their horses to the Delta Tunnels and support the current bond written in 2009 rather than the tunnel neutral approach in SB 848 that was before them. The 2009 bond promotes the tunnels and is doomed to be rejected by the voters.”

“We are in a drought," she said. "The voters want real solutions, not the tunnels. There is no better time than now to act. SB 848 includes water solutions for every region of the state that reflect local needs and priorities. This bond doesn’t hurt any region and, critically, it avoids investments in controversial projects like the Delta Tunnels that will result in opposition at the ballot. SB 848 is the only proposal that doesn't provoke a North-South water war and meets Republican core demand for surface storage."

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and other Senators from all parts of California bond spoke in support the bill to “enhance water supply reliability” in every region of the state.

“This isn’t a loss. This is not the end of the debate,” said Senator Steinberg. “This is the beginning of what I hope will be the final stages of a successful negotiation to put an amended water bond on the ballot in 2014, pass it with North and South, East and West together.”

“Let us be clear, there are two tests that must be met for a water bond to pass,” noted Steinberg. “ It must first pass the legislature with a two-third’s vote, and secondly, whatever comes out of the legislature must pass muster with the voters.”

“Here’s the takeaway: A bond which stokes a North-South water fight will not pass. A bond that is perceived as furthering the tunnels will not pass. The Wolk bond is tunnel neutral, and can pass with the voters. Governing is a matter of choices. We don’t have the choice of doing nothing,” he concluded.

Wolk said SB 848 includes $10.5 billion in funding for a broad range of projects to address California’s critical water needs. The bill is co-authored by Senator Steinberg, Senate President pro Tem-elect Senator Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), Ben Hueso, (D-San Diego), and Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), as well as Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla (D-Concord) and Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D–Oakley), and would replace the $11.1 billion bond written in 2009 and now on this November’s statewide ballot.

“Some of the loudest opponents to SB 848 say they would like more money for the Delta, but they want to it controlled by those outside the Delta, without giving the Delta communities a place at the table,” emphasized Wolk. “That creates a North-South water war."

“Unfortunately, supporters of the Delta Tunnels plan are using their substantial power to stop a responsible bond in order to get more taxpayer funding for themselves. I am especially disappointed in my Republican colleagues who voted to oppose SB 848 even after it was amended at their request to include $3 billion in surface storage funding — the only request they made to support this water bond. I now regret granting their request,” Wolk concluded.

Groups oppose any tunnels funding in water bond

Californians for Fair Water Policy, a statewide coalition of environmental, water conservation, fishing, farming, Native American and community organizations, on June 19 declared their opposition to any state water bond measure that includes any funding to “mitigate damage” caused by Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed peripheral tunnels.

“The ‘habitat and conservation’ would simply enable the draining of the Delta. But habitat and conservation projects paired with tunnel construction would likely fail without sufficient water flows,” said Bob Wright, Senior Counsel of Friends of the River.

“The tunnels would damage water quality, the environment, fish, and farming, and impose billions of dollars of tax increases on the public to mitigate that damage,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta.

Michael Greene, Dir., Legislative Affairs, California State Grange, said, “The proposed tunnels and excessive water exports would devastate sustainable farming. To make taxpayers pay to mitigate damage from this unwise project adds insult to injury.”

“It is unwise to include billions of dollars to mitigate a project that has not yet identified its funding sources nor conducted a comprehensive, fair benefits-cost analysis,” said Conner Everts, Executive Director, Southern California Watershed Alliance. “There are no guarantees that Southern California residents will receive more water, but we’d be paying the major share of the cost of the bonds.”

“Beneficiaries should pay for habitat required to mitigate the negative impacts of the tunnels,” said Adam Scow, California Campaigns Director Food & Water Watch. “It’s absurd that Governor Brown wants to make us taxpayers pay to redirect the Sacramento River so that oil companies and huge agribusinesses can make even more profits.”

The coalition urged the governor and legislature to focus a state water bond measure on projects that would “increase conservation to generate additional water, improve regional self-reliance, rebuild aging and leaking water infrastructure in urban areas, and provide clean drinking water for all California communities.”