After five years, two postponements and seemingly endless negotiations, state lawmakers Wednesday night approved placing a $7.45 billion water bond before voters on the November ballot.
The drought-era plan, backed by Gov. Brown and the Legislature, dramatically scales back and replaces the $11.14 billion borrowing that originally faced voters.
Shortly after the final vote, Brown signed the bill that authorizes putting the bond on the ballot.
Critics contended that bond, approved by lawmakers in 2009 and pushed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, had been top-heavy with pork barrel projects and didn’t do enough to protect the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta east of San Francisco. The vast estuary is the core of the state’s water system.
“Our work is just beginning,” said Senate Leader Darrel Steinberg moments after the 37-0 vote in the Senate. “We have to pass this in November.”
Earlier, the Assembly approved the bond 77-2, with opposition from Southern California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, and northern California Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata.
Lawmakers and the governor reached agreement Wednesday to revise the November bond with the smaller bond which contains about $300 million less for storage – including reservoirs – sought by farm belt lawmakers, who have been forced to let crop lands go fallow for lack of water.
Overshadowing the negotiations was California’s deepening drought, as well as concerns from rival water interests that Gov. Brown would campaign against the $11.14 billion during his reelection race for governor – a move that would likely doom the measure.
Timothy Quinn, executive director of the 450-member Association of California Water Agencies, said that “it hasn’t always been a smooth road on the way to this bond,” but the negotiations produced a “carefully crafted, targeted bond (that) has a greatly enhanced chance of a successful outcome with voters this November.”
Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, said the measure contained delta protections and was separate from the administration’s proposal to drill a pair of tunnels through the delta to carry northern California water southward.
“This bond is a compromise. It isn’t perfect. But it is still a win for the delta and the state, and it is a bond that voters can support in November,” Wolk noted in a written statement released by her office.
Ed’s Note: Updates with Gov. Brown signing legislation putting bond on the November ballot, 3rd graf; adds reaction, final three grafs and additional opposition vote, 6th graf.