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Drain - Water & Money

With a growing California populace, global warming, and a state budget crisis it is difficult to see a solution for California's water supply woes.

Legislative Leaders Continue To Churn Over Delta Policy Bill and Water Bond

Update: October 2009 By Steve Evans

Faced with Governor Schwarzenegger’s threat to veto all bills unless there is movement on complex water legislation, California legislative leaders failed to come to an agreement on Delta policy and water bond bills this past weekend (Oct. 10-11). The Governor then ignored his threat and signed and vetoed several bills on Sunday.

Legislative leaders did claim that they were close to a water deal. Apparently in response, Governor Schwarzenegger will declare a special legislative session on water. When the special water session is to be convened remains unclear. Most members of the California Legislature are not in Sacramento at this time.
Although Delta policy and water bond legislation has essentially been on hold since the Legislature melted down over these issues on September 11, rumors emanating from beneath the Capitol dome indicate some progress in the right direction. One rumor indicates that the budget-busting $12 billion water bond may be trimmed down to a smaller (but still financially devastating) $9 billion bond. Another is the Legislature intends to reserve unto itself the responsibility for ultimately authorizing Delta conveyance (a euphemism used by water interests for the Peripheral Canal).

Since July, Friends of the River has advocated that the Legislature, and not some board appointed by the Governor, ultimately decide on whether the Peripheral Canal or some other facility be constructed to divert Sacramento River water around the Delta for export south. In addition, we have been hammering on the financial imprudence of proposing to fund Delta restoration and new water facilities (including new dams) with a general obligation bond.

A $12 billion or $9 billion bond will cost the taxpayers (respectively) $800 million or $576 million a year for 30 years. Neither is feasible because the state’s debt service on bonds already authorized by the voters will grow to about 10% of the state’s budget and will contribute to more state funding cuts for public safety, health, education, and environmental protection have been slashed to the bone.

Because of the rising cost of bond servicing, California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer recently stepped into the water policy melee, urging that those who directly benefit from water development pay for new infrastructure. Over the weekend, the Sacramento Bee editorialized in support of the Legislature retaining its authority to ultimately decide on whether and what kind of Delta conveyance will be built. The Bee also noted that a $12 billion bond is simply too costly and advocated for giving Delta residents more representation on whatever entity will be established to manage the Delta.  Friends of the River has lobbied in favor of all three points for months.

As legislative leaders continue to churn over the details of the complex Delta and water bond legislation, a small but vocal coalition of Delta interests, anglers, environmental justice advocates, and some conservation organizations (including Friends of the River, Planning and Conservation League, Clean Water Action, and Sierra Club California) developed and released their own California water policy solutions (pdf) last week. The policy solutions include water and financial sustainability, regional self-sufficiency, conservation, water metering and tiered rates, recycling, groundwater protection and clean-up, storm water capture and reuse, and quantifiable water rights for the Delta and the environment.

The key to any forward movement on the Delta policy legislation is first determining and quantifying how much water the Delta ecosystem needs to be restored and sustained. Any policy legislation that fails to do this will be little more than a rubber stamp for a large and destructive Peripheral Canal. Another key component is ensuring that taxpayers will not have to pay for Delta conveyance and new dams demanded by water interests.

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New Dams vs. Conservation

The cost estimate for the Delta water policy package now ranges from $52 billion to $78 billion or more. Of this, ecosystem restoration, clean water, and sustainable water programs advocated by Friends of the River and other conservation interests account for about $10 billion. The rest of this enormous bill is for the Peripheral Canal and new dams. No wonder that water interests are spending millions of dollars to convince the California Legislature and the general public that unsustainable public financing in needed to solve the so-called “water crisis.”

It’s clear that California’s economy and environment can no longer afford to finance costly, wasteful, and destructive 19th century solutions (new dams and canals) to our 21st century water challenges. But whether our elected leaders will ultimately take the painful but necessary steps to avoid mortgaging our future and encourage all Californians to use water wisely and frugally remains unclear.

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