The Fish Sniffer - Senator Wolk Reintroduces Revised Water Bond

Senator Wolk Reintroduces Revised Water Bond

Written By: Dan Bacher, July 16, 2014

State Senator Lois Wolk on Thursday, July 3 reintroduced a revamped Senate Bill 848, responding to requests by Governor Jerry Brown for a more scaled-down bond, before the Senate went into summer recess.

The bill is set at $7.5 billion, $3 billion less than her previous $10.5 billion bond measure, but $1.5 billion more than the 6 billion bond that Brown outlined in a series of conversations with legislators after Wolk’s previous bond failed to get the necessary votes to move it forward. 

“This revised version of SB 848 responds to the Governor’s desire for a smaller bond while remaining a comprehensive approach to addressing the state’s critical water needs,” said Senator Wolk. “At $7.5 billion, SB 848 maintains funding for statewide priorities including water quality and supply reliability projects.”

“The Senate bond continues to help communities enhance their water supply and prepare for drought. It funds storage projects at the same level proposed by the Governor. And, critically, it continues to be tunnel neutral,” she stated.

Wolk said the revised Senate bond includes $7.5 billion in funding for a “broad range of projects to address California’s critical water needs.” Categories were cut by a proportional amount, with the exception of funding for some high priority areas including groundwater sustainability and recycled water.  

Wolk and other Senators say the 2009 proposal, which includes funding to mitigate the harmful environmental impacts of the BDCP, needs to be replaced since it will face almost certain doom at the ballot box in November. 

In a press conference held by Senators Wolk, Darrell Steinberg, Kevin De Leon and Fran Pavley announcing the reintroduction of the revamped water bond, both Steinberg and Wolk responded to the following question: "What do you think about the tunnels. Are the tunnels going to happen? Everyone is saying ‘tunnel neutrality’. That is making me think no one really wants them." 

Steinberg said, "The point is the tunnels are going to have their own pathway, so to speak, process wise. In other words, the tunnels really are about a permit process with the state and federal government, and all we are saying is don’t mix the bond together with the controversy over the tunnels. When you make it a north-south fight, when you make it about the tunnels, the bond goes from about 60% to just over 40%. We want to pass a bond because California needs it, so keep the debate separate.

Senator Wolk said, "There’s no reason to have the fight about the tunnels in this bond and at this time. The tunnel project, or whatever it is, the BDCP, whatever it turns out to be, is not yet approved and it won’t be probably for another year. However, what this bond is about is short-term and medium-term water needs that currently exist now, so why don’t we just figure what we all agree on that harms no part of the state but helps everyone and get that done." 

The current water bond on the November ballot was created as part of a water policy/water bond package, legislation that created a clear path to the construction of a peripheral canal or tunnels, passed by the Legislature in a special session called by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in November 2009.

The water bond was rescheduled twice, first in 2010 and then again in 2012, due to strong opposition to provisions in the bond that facilitate the construction of the twin tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.  

The Governor’s Office has to date declined to comment on the specifics of his water bond proposal. "The Governor is concerned about ongoing debt service and its impact on future budgets," Brown spokesman Jim Evans said in a statement.

However, his outline for a $6 billion water bond to replace the $11.1 billion bond currently on the November ballot has been widely circulated to legislators and the media.

His outline for the "Water Action Plan Financing Act of 2014" includes $2 billion for storage, $1.5 billion for watershed protection, watershed ecosystem restoration and state settlements, $1.5 billion for water quality and water supply reliability, $500 million for the Delta and $500 million for statewide flood management. 

The Governor's bond would be "BDCP (Bay Delta Conservation Plan) neutral," according to the outline. 

But Restore the Delta (RTD rejected the Governor's assertion that his proposed state water bond principles are “tunnel neutral." They released proposed bond language that would have taxpayers foot the bill for the damage from the tunnels project. 

The group said the tunnels cannot be built without hundreds of millions of dollars to fund “mitigation” of the project’s damage, damage the water-takers refuse to pay, and are foisting onto taxpayers. 

“The governor’s water bond is not ‘tunnels neutral,’ and his declaring it so does not make it true,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, RTD executive director. “Much in the same way the proponents of the tunnels project named it the ‘Bay Delta Conservation Plan,’ (BDCP) and classified construction of the massive 35-mile long tunnels their primary ‘conservation measure,’ the governor is perverting the meaning of the English language.

“We are not fooled, and neither will the taxpayers who will pay the bill be fooled. This tunnels-enabling provision would doom the water bond we all need to address our water crisis,” she concluded.

On June 23, Senator Wolk’s water bond bill failed to gain required two-thirds vote “due to Republican opposition and demands that the measure include more funding to enable the construction of two tunnels underneath the Delta to divert water to farming interests in the Southern San Joaquin Valley,” according to a statement from Wolk’s Office. 

The vote was on party lines, with the Senate Democrats supporting the measure and the Senate Republicans voting against it.

The 22 yes votes were Beall, Corbett, Correa, De León, DeSaulnier, Evans, Galgiani, Hernandez, Hueso, Jackson, Lara, Leno, Lieu, Liu, Mitchell, Monning, Padilla, Pavley, Roth, Steinberg, Torres, and Wolk, all Democrats.

The no votes were Anderson, Berryhill, Fuller, Huff, Knight, Morrell, Vidak, Walters, Wyland, all Republicans.

No votes were recorded by Block, Calderon, Cannella, Gaines, Hancock, Hill, Nielsen, Wright and Yee.   

Three of those recorded “not voting” - Leland Yee of San Francisco, Ron Calderon of Montebello and Rod Wright of Inglewood - were suspended from the State Senate with pay this March.

Californians for Fair Water Policy, a statewide coalition of environmental, water conservation, fishing, farming, Native American and community organizations, strongly opposes any State water bond measure that includes any funding to “mitigate damage” caused by Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed peripheral tunnels.

“The ‘habitat and conservation’ would simply enable the draining of the Delta. But habitat and conservation projects paired with tunnel construction would likely fail without sufficient water flows,” said Bob Wright, Senior Counsel of Friends of the River in news release on June 19.   

“It is unwise to include billions of dollars to mitigate a project that has not yet identified its funding sources nor conducted a comprehensive, fair benefits-cost analysis,” said Conner Everts, Executive Director, Southern California Watershed Alliance. “There are no guarantees that Southern California residents will receive more water, but we’d be paying the major share of the cost of the bonds.” 

“Beneficiaries should pay for habitat required to mitigate the negative impacts of the tunnels,” said Adam Scow, California Campaigns Director Food & Water Watch. “It’s absurd that Governor Brown wants to make us taxpayers pay to redirect the Sacramento River so that oil companies and huge agribusinesses can make even more profits.”  

The coalition urged the governor and legislature to focus a state water bond measure on projects that would “increase conservation to generate additional water, improve regional self-reliance, rebuild aging and leaking water infrastructure in urban areas, and provide clean drinking water for all California communities.”

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