Fixing water, levees, ecosystems imperative

California is on the precipice of a serious water crisis. A federal judge has already told us that we have to fix the Delta or Southern California will lose 30 percent of its drinking water. That is simply not a sustainable situation.

Last year we made major progress in rebuilding California. Voters agreed that it had been too long since California had invested in its critical infrastructure, such as levees. It’s time to continue that work. Our proposed bond would invest $5.8 billion in our aging water system.

The time to act is now. The governor called a special session because this matter has urgency. I don’t want to be the guy standing up next year when the Delta pumps have been turned off explaining why we couldn’t get anything done.

A federal judge ruled that current water pumping in the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta violates federal law by degrading the environment and jeopardizing the existence of endangered fish species.

People understand that when there are a lot of potholes you need to invest in transportation. It’s harder to understand when water needs to be fixed. This time, a judge has told us. So whatever the Legislature and governor do must have electoral viability. Voters want to see clean water coming out of their tap.

They know that conservation and groundwater clean-up help do that.
On the other hand, dams are expensive, do not solve the immediate problem and primarily benefit corporate farmers.

Voters also expect us to spend bond money once they approve it. That’s why all year we worked on SB 1002, which takes $610 million of already approved bond money for water and flood protection and moves it out the door.

If the governor wanted to show true leadership on water issues he would sign this bill immediately. Every water agency in the state has supported this bill. He could line-item veto certain appropriations if he wanted. But the bill deserves his signature, not a veto threat.

SB 1002 is the first step. It increases reliable water supply from groundwater cleanup in Los Angeles to stabilizing the Delta.

The next step is my bond proposal, SB 2 XX, which includes money to improve water supply and reliability, fix the Delta and allow for regional solutions.

It’s good that the governor has finally produced his own water plan. In this case, it seems imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. His plan mirrors mine but adds on $5 billion devoted solely to three dam sites.

These dams are a decade or more away from being built and provide no water supply benefit to the millions of people in the Bay Area or south of the Tehachapi’s. Any ballot measure including money specifically earmarked for dams is likely to attract opposition from environmentalists. Voters don’t understand the need for dams and if significant opposition is generated the entire plan could fail.

SB 2 XX includes $2 billion for regional grants to improve water supply reliability. It does not exclude dams as long as that is the fastest, cheapest and most efficient way to increase water supply.

People who support dams ought not to be afraid of the process. Dams should be able to stand on their own and compete with other projects — not get a lock on the money.

Our bill also emphasizes regional decision making rather than investing control in the Department of Water Resources. The regional agencies are the experts. Doesn’t it make more sense to have regional water agencies decide how best to meet their water needs, not some bureaucrat in Sacramento? Our proposal sets up a competitive process in each region to find the projects that provide the most water at the lowest cost.

SB 2 XX addresses the most immediate problems in the Delta: fixing the levees and restoring the ecosystem. But it also lays the foundation for a more permanent fix, with $2.4 billion going toward Delta restoration. It will incorporate ideas that come out of the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on the Delta later this year.

Californians understand the need to continue with our Rebuild California efforts. They want to live in a state where they know they will have clean, reliable drinking water.

Our goal is to approve a bond measure that will not only meet the immediate needs of Californians, but also earn their votes. The time for action is now.

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