[env-trinity] Steinberg's Water Bill Package Defeated by Grassroots Uprising

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Sun Sep 13 22:47:16 PDT 2009

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Dan Bacher 
Sent: Sunday, September 13, 2009 6:33 PM
Subject: Steinberg's Water Bill Package Defeated by Grassroots Uprising

Steinberg's Water Bill Package Defeated by Grassroots Uprising

by Dan Bacher 

Faced with overwhelming and wide-ranging opposition by the people of California, Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and other Legislators abandoned their attempt to rush a controversial water policy and bond package through the Capitol in the final hours of the Legislative Session Friday. 

Delta advocates said the passage of the bill would have resulted in the construction of a peripheral canal and an increase in water exports out of the imperiled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, sealing the doom of the collapsing Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations as well as Delta agriculture. They also contended the legislation would have greatly weakened California water rights and Public Trust law. 

Although this was a great victory for the broad coalition of fishing, conservation, environmental justice, tribal, labor and farming groups and Delta counties and cities that opposed the legislation, the war to save and restore the Delta has just begun, according to bill opponents. 

"We're not finished yet," said Assemblymember Lois Wolk (D-Davis). "We need to focus now on what we need to do to save the Delta. We have a lot of work to do to restore our fisheries and protect habitat and Delta agriculture." 

"We won," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta. "Thank Lois Wolk." 

Senator Wolk on Wednesday withdrew her authorship of Senate Bill 458, legislation that would establish a Delta Conservancy, because of her concern that the bill's amended version would serve as a "tool to assist water exporters who are primarily responsible for the Delta's decline." 

Wolk took this unusual action after being notified by Steinberg that her legislation would be amended in a Water Conference Committee with provisions Senator Wolk and the five Delta counties opposed. Wolk was replaced with Senators Steinberg and Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) as the authors of SB 458. 

Robert Johnson of Californians Against the Canal emphasized that the problems of the Delta and northern California fisheries cannot be solved without addressing the retirement of selenium-filled lands in the San Joaquin Valley's west side that would free upwards of 1.5 million acre feet of water for fish and the environment. 

"The resources saved by funding 21st Century water solutions, including the retirement of drainage impaired land and increased water conservation, would be far more effective and less costly than the current water scenario," said Johnson. "These solutions would also free up tremendous resources to deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by unrestrained agriculture growth in Kings, Kern, Fresno and Madera counties in recent decades." 

"It took a massive effort by the fishing, conservation and environmental community to stand up to the multimillion dollar lobbying of the Southern California water districts but we did it," summed up Jerry Neuburger of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA). "Your letters, faxes, and phone calls made the difference. With your help, CSPA was the tip of the arrow aimed at this destructive bill's heart." 

"The bad news is, like Arnold, they'll be back," he quipped. "A special session is in the works so please don't think this is over. But for now, smell the roses, drink the champagne and take a trip to Disneyland!" 

Over the past week, Steinberg's attempt to ram the bill package through the Capitol ignited a grass roots uprising of Steinberg's constituents and Delta residents. Barbara Daly of Save the Delta and Kim Glazzard of Organic Sacramento organized three days of protests outside of Steinberg's office to put political pressure on Steinberg. 

The broad-spread opposition was evidenced Friday night during the final hearing on SB 68 (AB 893). While several people, including representatives of NRDC, Environmental Defense, the Nature Conservancy, the Bay Institute and Metropolitan Water District spoke in favor of the water bill package, over 50 people spoke against it. 

The wide ranging opponents of the legislation included the California Farm Bureau, Sierra Club, Planning and Conservation League, the SEIU State Council, the Teamsters Union, Winnemem Wintu Tribe and City of Sacramento. Even Phil Isenberg, the chairman of the Delta Vision Task Form, opposed the legislation in a letter hand delivered to Legislators. Many speakers complained that the legislation was rushed, failed to include proper input from Delta legislators and residents and would actually worsen, rather than help, the imperiled California Delta. 

"The crisis on the Delta is universally acknowledged," said Barry Nelson, senior policy analyst for NRDC, in urging the Legislators to pass the bill. "The status quo, the way the Delta is managed now, is not sustainable. 

"This legislation will do nothing to help the Delta," countered Jim Metropolous, Senior Advocate of the Sierra Club California. "What's the rush to pass this bill package when the legislation states that it will take two years to come up with a plan? What we need is for the DFG and State Water Board to do their job enforcing the law." 

Senator Steinberg made a last minute appeal to garner support for the legislation. "I'm willing to concede and compromise on water storage, continuous appropriations and general obligation bonds because if we want to solve California's water problems, we have to compromise," he said. "My bill offers the best effort to compromise. We brought Environmental Defense, NRDC, the Audubon Society, Westlands Water District and the Metropolitan Water District together to negotiate this compromise." 

However, by late Friday evening, massive opposition to the bill by both Republican and Democratic legislators became clear to Steinberg, Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and they shelved the legislation before it went to a floor vote.

The defeat of both the water policy bill and $11.8 billion water bond on September 11 was a clear victory by grassroots environmentalists, fishermen, farmers and Delta residents over the corporate environmentalists who collaborated with Westlands Water District, the Metropolitan Water District and Legislators in their attempt to push a package through the Legislature that would have resulted in the building of a peripheral canal and more dams. 
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