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Fishermen and Enviros Blast Schwarzenegger/Feinstein Water Bond Boondoggle

by Dan Bacher
Here's my article on the Schwarzenegger/Feinstein water bond boondoggle, followed by an action alert from Steve Evans of Friends of the River and a sidebar breakdown of the water bond proposal.
Conservation Groups: Schwarzenegger/Feinstein Water Bond Is Costly and Environmentally Destructive

by Dan Bacher

As Governor Schwarzenegger threatens to cut the salaries of 200,000 state workers to the $6.55 federal minimum wage to supposedly ease the state’s projected budget deficit of $17.2 billion, Schwarzenegger and Senator Dianne Feinstein are campaigning for an enormously costly and destructive "compromise" $9.3 billion water bond proposal that includes more dams and a peripheral canal.

Fishing and environmental groups strongly criticized the proposal for furthering imperiling already collapsing Central Valley and Delta fisheries while further indebting California taxpayers, while Democratic Legislators urged the Governor to spend $800,000,000 already allocated before talking about another water bond.

The latest proposal follows the Governor’s signing of an executive order in June declaring a statewide drought that directed state agencies and departments to “take immediate action” to address the drought conditions and water delivery reductions that exist in California. Schwarzenegger also proclaimed a state of emergency in nine Central Valley counties to address urgent water needs: Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern.

This water bond proposal calls for "increased water storage to ensure our water supply is more reliable year-to-year and we’re able to capture excess water in wet years to use in dry years" and "improved water conveyance to reduce water shortages" - a euphemism for the peripheral canal.

"The goal of this plan is to break the long-standing stalemate over water,” Senator Feinstein gushed, evoking the failed "can't we all come together" pseudo-consensus language that her and Schwarzenegger revel in. “California is facing an unprecedented water crisis. The combination of drought, court ordered water restrictions, global warming, and an increasing population has placed a major strain on the existing infrastructure.

She continued, “We need to prepare now for the future. This language is comprehensive, balanced and could help increase water supplies to meet the needs of the environment, our cities, and agriculture. I hope that all sides can come together around a consensus plan that can be approved this November.”

Governor Schwarzenegger echoed, “There is an urgent need for comprehensive water reform, and this bipartisan plan is offered as a potential compromise that puts us on the path toward restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, expanding water supplies and promoting conversation efforts that will ensure a clean, reliable water supply for California,”

In a joint statement, the bipartisan duo claimed that the water bond would somehow restore collapsing Central Valley salmon and Delta fish species, although not specifying how this would be done with more dams and an “improved conveyance.”

The statement continues, “In two of the past three years, our once thriving Pacific salmon fisheries have been simply shut down as former salmon strongholds throughout the state have become dangerously imperiled. The populations of Delta smelt and other native Delta fish have collapsed to tiny fractions of their former levels. Threats from aquatic invasive species, toxic discharges and pesticides abound. Restoring our fisheries and our riparian ecosystems in the face of all these challenges will require bold action.”

Fishing groups said this proposal does nothing to further real water conservation or ecological preservation, but is just another version of the Governor and Feinstein's earlier, outdated proposals to bail out corporate agribusiness, construct new dams and build the canal.

“We already have $6 billion in bond money that the state hasn’t spent yet,” said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “This is just the latest scheme to raid the people’s pocketbooks to further subsidize already subsidized water contractors.”

He criticized the proposal for including plans to build Sites Reservoir on the west side of the Sacramento Valley and Temperance Flat Reservoir on the San Joaquin River east of Fresno. “The Governor and Feinstein are trying to force through the dams even though they will have little yield in water,” said Jennings. “Also, the Sites Reservoir would store water in mercury laden sediments.”

The problem with constructing new dams or “improving conveyance” is that California water is already grossly overallocated. California has 77 million acre feet in annual runoff in a state with a water budget of 85 million acre feet – and where over half a billion acre feet is authorized for use, according to Jennings.

Jennings said that Feinstein, Schwarzenegger and other policy makers “have to realize that we live in an arid state and the water bond is predicated on an abundance of water that doesn’t’ exist.”

In spite of Schwarzenegger’s and Feinstein’s claims that the bond will somehow restore the Delta ecosystem, Jennings noted that it will only “further exacerbate the demise of Central Valley fisheries.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign coordinator of Restore the Delta, was also very displeased with the Governor’s bond proposal.

“As was the case in 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger made what appears on the surface to be another move to short-circuit his own mandated Delta planning process, Delta Vision, by calling for a bipartisan $9.3 billion water bond,” she said. “The joint statement sent out by the Governor and Senator Diane Feinstein calls for (in nebulous language) "improved conveyance" that will take the pressure of the Delta.

“Restore the Delta staff is very suspicious of the lack of details regarding Delta conveyance included in their joint statement as well as the timing of this proposed bond,” she stated. “Could it be that this initial bond is somehow supposed to finance the proposed Delta Vision Strategic Draft Plan? While the $3 billion figure for improved state water conveyance would not cover the entire cost of a new through Delta pipeline, could money for a new facility be forthcoming from other sources?

She also questioned why the Governor is calling for this new bond when California has an $18 billion deficit and is in its third week of operating without a state budget.

The Planning and Conservation League (PCL) criticized the bond for including provisions that would limit future legislative oversight for water storage projects and projects affecting the Bay Delta, including the unprecedented continuous appropriation of $3 billion for water storage projects. "If approved, the water bond would bypass the legislature and grant allocation authority to the defunct California Water Commission (which is a commission entirely appointed by the Governor and which currently has no appointed members)," said Mindy McIntire, PCL's Water Program Manager.

"The proposal also includes confusing language that seems to limit the Legislature's ability to engage in a solution to fix the Delta by requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to change or amend any portion of the proposal's directives regarding the Delta," she added.

"New dams and the Peripheral Canal truly represent a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem," summed up Steve Evans, conservation director of Friends of the River, in a letter to Feinstein and Schwarzenegger. "We respectfully urge you to reconsider your support for this budget-busting and environmentally destructive bond measure."

Legislators Respond to Proposal

Senate President pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) also criticized the Governor’s proposed $9.3 billion water bond measure, saying the best way for California to boost water supply quickly is to put the $9 billion in bond money approved by voters in 2006 to work. However, fishing and environmental groups were alarmed by his increasing willingness to sponsor a compromise water bond with Schwarzenegger and Feinstein, drawing fears that the final version could include a peripheral canal and dams.

“This latest bond proposal shares many similarities to one I put up for a vote last September, before the state encountered its current fiscal crisis,” he concluded. “ I am open to doing a water bond."

Perata said the state should spend the bond money voters approved in 2006 - and then pass a “responsible budget” that can pay for the debt service on a new bond. “Once we do that, we’ll sit down with the Governor and Republicans to draft a bond measure to secure the state’s long-term water supply,” he explained.

On July 14, Perata and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) further indicated their willingness to come up with a compromise bond when they announced that they would push legislation to fund “water storage, reliability and conservation efforts” with already approved bond money.

"It's imperative that we get to work immediately improving water conservation, water storage and water management -- and that's exactly what these two bills do," Bass said. "This package sets a realistic target for boosting water conservation and uses already approved bond money to make big improvements in California's water system."

“Just like California’s transportation infrastructure, our water system must be overhauled and upgraded to meet the growing demands of the 21st century,” Perata said. “These bills take an important first step by quickly getting more than $800 million out the door and making conservation a top priority.”

The two bills are:

• SB 1XX (Second Extraordinary Session), by Perata. This bill appropriates $812.5 million in Proposition 84 and Proposition 1-E dollars already approved by the voters in 2006. These funds are desperately needed by water agencies to address the current water drought and fire crisis and to provide immediate investments in water supply reliability.

• AB 2175, by Assemblyman John Laird (D-Santa Cruz). This bill establishes a 20 percent water conservation target for most urban water agencies by the year 2020. It essentially says that within 12 years, the state will meet one-fifth of its water needs through more efficient use of the water we have.

“Perata's now talking compromise with the governor,” contended Jerry Neuburger, CSPA webmaster. “Is the legislature sailing us down the peripheral canal?"

Everybody who cares about the future of the California Delta, West Coast fisheries and California water supplies should oppose Schwarzenegger and Feinstein’s proposal – and urge Bass and Perata to not include dams and a peripheral canal in any final “compromise” bond proposal.

Write, call or visit your Legislators today and phone or write Governor and Dianne Feinstein about your strong opposition to their plan that will result only in the further decline of imperiled chinook salmon, delta smelt, longfin smelt, striped bass, green sturgeon and other fish populations. I strongly urge you to sign on to the letter authored by Steve Evans of Friends of the River opposing the proposal

For more information on the legislation, go to, and

Action Alert from Steve Evans, Friends of the River: Ten Problems With the Water Bond Proposal

Dear Friends,

It’s time once again for the conservation, fishing, and Native American communities to let their voices be heard in opposition to the unneeded, destructive, and budget busting $9.3 billion dam and canal-building bond proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Please sign your organization on to these two important letters opposing the Schwarzenegger/Feinstein water bond. The first letter is to the Governor and Senator Feinstein. The second letter is to Senate Pro Tem Perata and Assembly Speaker Bass.

Last year, more than 50 organizations signed on to a letter opposing the Governor’s previous water bond. Let’s see if we can include even more organizations on this letter.

Please sign your organization on by providing your name, title, and group affiliation to Soren Jespersen by replying to soren [at] no later than COB Friday, Aug. 1. For more information about these letters, please contact Soren or Steve Evans at sevans [at], phone: (916) 442-3155 x221. Both letters are attached and the letter to the Governor/Feinstein is copied below.


Steven L. Evans

Conservation Director

Friends of the River

1418 20th Street - Suite 100, Sacramento, CA 95814

Phone: (916) 442-3155, Ext. 221

Fax; (916) 442-3396

Email: sevans [at]

Web Site:

Letter to Feinstein and Schwarzenegger

Dear Senator Feinstein and Governor Schwarzenegger:

The undersigned conservation, recreation, and Native American organizations respectfully oppose your proposed $9.3 billion water bond. Although we appreciate the provisions in the bond that would fund water conservation and watershed restoration, the bond could also provide significant funding for destructive and unneeded new and expanded surface storage dams, as well as the Peripheral Canal.

Our primary concerns about the bond are:

1. New dams are not needed. Wise investments in increased water conservation and efficiency, expanded water reclamation and recycling programs, and improved groundwater management can easily meet our current and future water needs at a fraction of the cost. Funding of these programs now would produce virtually immediate results in response to the drought while funding of new dams would not produce new water for decades. Allocating billions for unneeded new dams prioritizes limited public dollars away from other more cost effective and environmentally beneficial water programs.

2. New dams are not a solution to the drought. Dams do not create water, they simply capture rainwater and snowmelt. If any of the proposed dams existed today, the reservoirs would likely be as empty as our existing reservoirs due to the drought and the state’s primary focus on exporting water for consumptive purposes. If construction of any of these dams began today, they would not provide a drop of water for decades. Increased investments in conservation, efficiency, recycling, and reclamation could produce savings and water almost immediately.

3. Water conservation and efficiency are cheaper and more effective alternatives. Every dollar invested in urban water conservation produces four times more water than twelve dollars invested in new dams. Current and past investments in conservation and efficiency have reduced California’s per capita consumption of water by half in the last 40 years. And yet, there is much more that can be done to reclaim, recycle, conserve, and more efficiently utilize our existing water supplies.

4. Dam costs are exorbitant and increasing daily. As currently proposed, the bond could provide as much as $5 billion for new or expanded dams. Current cost estimates for each new or expanded dam are in the billions of dollars and these estimates do not include actual escalated costs, including the rising price for raw materials and energy needed for construction, inflation, interest, and mitigation of environmental impacts. The public debt service on the proposed bond will cost taxpayers billions of dollars over the multi-year life span of the bond, at a time when the state and its taxpayers are already struggling to fund essential public services.

5. New dams and large reservoirs are ineffective and wasteful. The 2005 California Water Plan found that surface storage conservatively produces the least amount of water than any other water management option, including cloud seeding. The 1,400 existing dams in California already use the most effective dam sites. Because of this, many of the proposed dams will store no water during drought and relatively insignificant amounts of water during normal water years. For example, the proposed Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River would provide no additional water storage three years out of four. California’s major reservoirs already lose more than 2 million acre-feet of water every year from evaporation.

6. Dams are not a solution to global warming. Experts agree that our existing comprehensive system of dams can be operated to meet the hydrological changes caused by global warming. Large reservoirs created by new dams actually produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Worse yet, many of the CALFED dam projects are energy losers and may force California to become more reliant on polluting energy sources (moving water is already the top energy use in the state). For example, the Sites and Los Vaqueros projects will require more power to pump water into the reservoirs than the facilities will produce when water is released downstream. The Temperance Flat dam will drown more existing power capacity than it will generate.

7. Local ratepayers who benefit most from new dams should pay for them, not state taxpayers. None of the dam projects under consideration are able to muster a majority vote in the California Legislature. As long as there is a possibility that state and federal taxpayers will pick up the tab to build expensive new dams, many local water agencies will likely decline to invest in expensive new dams. Where local water agencies have determined that a new dam is essential for local needs, the local ratepayers and beneficiaries paid for the new dam (as is the case with the Metropolitan Water District’s Diamond Valley Dam, the San Diego Water Authority’s Olivenhain Dam, and Contra Costa Water District’s Los Vaqueros Dam – all built in the last 15 years).

8. Dam studies are not completed. We don’t really know how much these dams truly cost, how much water will actually be produced, who will receive and pay for the water, and the true extent of their actual environmental impacts. Funding dams before legally required environmental and engineering studies are complete and their true costs are known is bad public policy and violates the spirit if not intent of our environmental laws.

9. The dams may cause great environmental harm. The Temperance Flat Dam will drown up to 5,000 acres of public recreation land, wildlife habitat, and Native American cultural sites in the San Joaquin River Gorge. The Sites Project will drown 14,000 acres of wildlife habitat and possibly divert enough water from the Sacramento River to harm its ecosystem and endangered fisheries and wildlife. Raising Shasta Dam and enlarging its reservoir will drown the cultural homeland of the Winnemen Wintu Tribe and violate state law requiring the protection of the McCloud River. Proponents claim that the new dams could be operated to benefit the environment but numerous state and federal court decisions prove that government agencies are incapable of operating dams in compliance with environmental laws when pressured by water interests and elected officials to provide more water for consumption.

10. The bond could fund the initial steps to building the controversial Peripheral Canal. The bond would provide nearly $2 billion to facilitate Delta “conveyance.” California voters overwhelmingly rejected the Peripheral Canal in 1982. Any conveyance that facilitates exports of fresh water from the Delta at current or increased levels is little more than a death sentence for the Delta ecosystem and its endangered fisheries. In addition, improved conveyance will harm Delta agriculture and perpetuate water quality violations in the Delta.

New dams and the Peripheral Canal truly represent a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem. We respectfully urge you to reconsider your support for this budget-busting and environmentally destructive bond measure. In addition, we urge you to support legislation introduced by Senate Pro Tem Don Perata to appropriate $800 million in bonds already approved by the voters to expedite funding for water conservation, efficiency, recycling, and reclamation programs. Passage of this legislation will provide nearly immediate relief from water shortages caused by the drought.

Thank you for you consideration.


Steven L. Evans

Conservation Director

Friends of the River

Sacramento, CA

Schwarzenegger and Feinstein’s Proposal Broken Down:

$2,000,000,000 for Water Supply Reliability: For regional water supply and conservation projects that implement an integrated regional water management plan and to support regional and interregional connectivity and water management.

$1,900,000,000 for Delta Sustainability: For projects that support delta sustainability options – levees, water quality, infrastructure and to protect and enhance the sustainability of the Delta ecosystem.

$3,000,000,000 for Statewide Water System Operational Improvement: For water storage projects to improve state water system operations and provide net improvement in ecosystem and water quality conditions.

$1,335,000,000 for Conservation And Watershed Protection: For ecosystem and watershed protections and restoration, invasive species removal, watershed restoration in fire damages areas, and for fish passage improvement and dam removal.

$800,000,000 for Groundwater Protection And Water Quality: For groundwater protection, small community wastewater treatment, stormwater management and water quality, and coastal water quality.

$250,000,000 for Water Recycling.
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Francisco Da Costa
Wed, Jul 30, 2008 12:06PM
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