In a Bind Over the Water Bond
It’s hard to imagine that – after all the talk about drought in California – we have managed to increase our overall water consumption over the last year. At the same time the Governor was urging us to reduce consumption by 20%, we actually increased by an average of 1% statewide.
In reaction to this news, the State Water Resources Control Board voted on July 15 to make the act of wasting water a criminal offense, similar to a traffic violation, subject to fines of up to $500 a day. If you use a hose to rinse your driveway or you let your irrigation run off into the street, you could be subject to a citation or fine.
Encouraging individual water conservation is important to the state’s water picture; but so too is improving function in the areas that provide water to the system – like the source watersheds of the Sierra-Cascade. That brings me to the water bond. (You knew I was going there… it’s all I ever talk about!)
Every time we approach a deadline for getting a new water bond on the 2014 ballot, the Legislature maneuvers around it and keeps the discussion going. Since it takes a two-thirds vote of both the Senate and Assembly to pass any one of these bills, and the Governor must sign the bill in order for a new water bond to go on the November ballot, everyone’s opinion matters. As of July 3, when the Legislature left for its month-long summer recess, there were three main proposals afloat – the Governor’s, the Senate’s and the Assembly’s.
The Governor’s calls for a $6 billion bond that funds primarily water storage, quality and conservation. While that may not sound so bad, his proposal signals a disturbing trend toward defunding smaller state agencies in favor of parking large pots of money with the bigger departments. Under this structure the smaller, more specialized state agencies would have to compete against each other, bigger agencies and other eligible entities for access to these funds. Prior Legislatures and governors wisely chose to avoid such a feeding frenzy by establishing geographically focused agencies, like state conservancies, that operate and administer funding at the local level for projects that achieve statewide goals. This governor’s proposed water bond would bypass that system altogether, putting the rural source areas of the Sierra-Cascade at a distinct disadvantage.
The Senate proposal (SB 848 – Wolk), totaling $7.5 billion, is a pared-down version of a bill introduced earlier in the session. It highlights the importance of headwater forests and watersheds to the rest of the state and offers specific allocations to conservancies, including a somewhat larger amount for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy in recognition of the region’s contribution to the state’s water system. But SB 848 has less funding for storage than either of the other two proposals, so most Republican legislators oppose it at this time.
The presumed Assembly vehicle, AB 2686 – Perea, currently totals $8.5 billion, with more funding for storage projects than the other two. The Perea bill includes allocations for conservancies, but at a much reduced level compared to the Senate bill. Republican legislators from the Valley seem to be more favorably inclined toward this bill; but there are other opponents, including some of the large southern California water agencies and Los Angeles-area Republican legislators, who want to see more funding for storage. So this is not a done-deal either.
Legislators and the Governor are expected to take up negotiations again upon their return from recess in early August. They have less than three weeks to finalize something and get it on the November ballot for the voters to decide.