Raising the stakes in the discussion over state water policy, a Sacramento-area lawmaker introduced legislation Thursday that would block the construction of a Peripheral Canal unless it was expressly authorized by the Legislature.
The special-session bill by Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, D-El Dorado Hills, also requires the Legislature's nonpartisan fiscal adviser, the Legislative Analyst, to put together an economic feasibility study of the potential project.
"I am very concerned about the direction in which the water discussions are heading. I am authoring the bill to make sure we get answers to very important questions," Huber said.
Cost estimates of $6 billion to $12 billion for the huge public works project have been provided by its supporters, but Huber said lawmakers need an independent, nonpartisan analysis to decide the issue.
The canal is at the heart of the debate over state water policy. Once approved by the Legislature and signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown, the canal was rejected by voters in a 1982 referendum. It has generally been opposed by environmentalists as disruptive to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta east of San Francisco, an estuary through which most of the state's water flows.
The delta's levees are crumbling while flows have been disrupted by the huge pumps that take water from the estuary and send it southward to the Central Valley and Southern California. In one design, the proposed canal would skirt the periphery of the delta for about 45 miles, moving water from the Sacramento River to the south and avoid taking it from the delta.
Huber's bill, AB 13 7x, would require lawmakers to sign off on any canal. The state's top water official, Lester Snow, director of the state Department of Resources, says the state already has the authority to build the canal – a position disputed by environmentalists.