[env-trinity] Capitol Weekly - Water Legislation

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Mon Nov 2 13:45:15 PST 2009


 

	
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Water reform package moving forward, but conflicts remain


By Capitol Weekly Staff | 10/29/09 12:00 AM PST

 

The promise of a water deal moved closer this week as a diverse coalition of
agricultural, urban and environmental groups rallied behind a policy
proposal authored by Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. But
Republicans balked at the measure, citing concerns over how the bill would
impact small farmers.   


What it all means for those hoping for a comprehensive water package is
unclear. The Steinberg and Assembly GOP proposals only deal with changes in
water policy. They do not address the other major part of these negotiations
- a bond that would have to be put before voters to pay for new water
storage and infrastructure projects. 


Democrats and Republicans introduced separate water bond proposals
Wednesday.
In addition to the intricate policy details, politics has complicated the
water talks throughout this months-long process. With the state's budget
facing what Assembly GOP leader Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, said could
be a $20 billion deficit next year, taking on more debt to pay for water
storage and upgrades may be a tough sell to voters. 

 


Republicans are aware of those political realities, and want to ensure that
the changes to state water policy - which do not need to go before voter,
and can be passed through the Legislature on a majority vote - are still
good for the state, with or without a water bond. 

 

Republicans seek stand-alone policy.
"We want to make sure this policy stands on its own," said Assembly
Republican leader Sam Blakeslee. Blakeslee noted he wants to break from the
conventional wisdom about water negotiations, in which Democrats would get
changes they want in water policy in exchange for a water bond that would
ensure the construction of at least one new reservoir. 


Speaking at the 2009 California Water Conference, sponsored by the Society
of American Military Engineers, Department of Water Resources director
Lester Snow said there was the "attention and momentum" to move a deal now.
While some vocal critics remain, there is major agreement among those
actually shaping the package. 


"Every stakeholder assumes someone else has an advantage and they're getting
screwed," Snow said. "There are no substantive issues anymore. It's in the
'black helicopter phase.'" 


Steinberg presented his bill, SB 1 7x, in a joint hearing of the Assembly
Water, Parks and Wildlife and Senate Natural Resources Committees Monday. He
was joined by a diverse coalition of disparate interests, including
lobbyists for the state's largest urban and agricultural water agencies and
the Natural Resources Defense Council.   


What about the Peripheral Canal?
The unprecedented coalition built by Steinberg came together after major
concessions that could lead to the construction of a canal that would divert
water out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and through the San
Joaquin Valley. 


Asked after his speech on Wednesday morning, DWR director Snow said the
state already has the legal authority to start building the canal. "We
clearly have the authority to do that," he said. "That's not something
that's a mystery to us." 

 


But if the state were to simply start construction on a structure that moved
water around the delta, lawsuits would be inevitable. 


Those lawsuits may still come, even if this bill is passed. But advocates
for the canal say the language in the bill makes their legal case stronger. 


The agencies themselves say they would pay for the huge project, using the
money from the rate increases paid by their customers.   


"All the agencies will share the cost of conveyance," said Jeff Kightlinger,
Chief Executive Officer of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern
California, which provides water to the Los Angeles basin. Kightlinger said
the cost of the canal could cost between $6 billion and $12 billion, and
would be funded by urban and agricultural rate payers. 


Rate hikes could total 10 percent to 12 percent for urban and industrial
users, and perhaps 50 percent to 100 percent for agricultural customers, he
said.   


The environmentalists say no authorization for a canal.
But environmentalists who support the legislation authored by Sen. Darrell
Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the bill does not give a green-light to
construction of the canal, or any other capital projects. The bill, focuses
on governance of the delta, environmental safeguards, water supply
reliability and other issues. Funding for those issues, perhaps in the $9
billion range, will be addressed separately, he said.   


 "The bill does not authorize a canal," Ann Notthoff of the Natural
Resources Defense Council testified during Monday's hearing. 


The divergence reflects the fragile nature of the group supporting the
water-reform package, which includes environmentalists and others long
opposed to a canal, or conveyance. Whether or not the bill actually eases
the possibility of a canal is apparently still a matter of dispute among
some coalition members. 


But Assembly Republicans say they are unhappy with the bill, and they have
introduced their own water plan that they said would curb the authority over
groundwater monitoring contained in the Senate plan. 


The Republican bill, AB 1 7x, was introduced hours after a closed-door
meeting Monday of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Republican and
Democratic leaders of both houses. During the meeting, Senate Republican
leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, and Assembly Republican leader Sam
Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, said they were unhappy over the regulatory
powers that the Steinberg bill authorized for groundwater monitoring and new
conservation provisions. Republicans said the provisions were particularly
difficult for small farmers. 


The authors of the bill are three of the Assembly Republican negotiators on
water  -- Jean Fuller of Bakersfield, Jim Nielsen of Yolo and Kevin Jeffries
of  Riverside. 


Assembly Republicans said the bill was intended to provide a platform for
future negotiations, and was "a work in progress," but it was put forward as
a potential alternative to the Steinberg proposal. 

 

A look at the bills.
The Senate and Assembly bills are similar in some respects, but differ in
others. One key difference is in the penalties and fines for improper
diversions of water. 


*The Senate bill calls for fines up to $5,000 per day or the amount of "the
highest market value of water," a level that could far exceed $5,000 per day
if the diversion was on a large scale. The Assembly plan's language caps the
penalty at $5,000, according to the language in the bill.   


The Assembly Republicans bill, which deals with policy and not fiscal
issues, was introduced on the same day that legislative hearings began on
the Steinberg bill, which was the product of months of negotiations between
water interests and environmental groups. 
But some of the largest water players in the state remain supportive of the
Steinberg measure. The fact that both water agencies, among the most
powerful political players in state water issues, back the bill reflects
their belief that the legislation assists them in their ultimate goal. The
bill provides "a clear path to conveyance," said lobbyist Ed Manning,
representing Westlands Water District. "It's a heck of a lot better than the
status quo." 


The bill itself does not contain language explicitly authorizing the
Peripheral Canal, nor does it contain any of three above-ground storage
projects associated with the negotiations - Temperance Flat near Fresno and
Sites in Colusa County, and raising the level at Los Vaqueros Reservoir in
Contra Costa County. 


But analyses by MWD and Westlands suggest that language deep in the 116-page
bill helps expedite development of the canal over time - a project already
authorized in state law. The state has begun studying the environmental
impacts of canal, although it has not settled on whether the channel should
go through or around the delta. 


The above-ground storage issues are expected to be addressed in the bond
proposal. 


The canal is a flashpoint in the debate over California water policy. The
multibillion-dollar canal - rejected by voters in 1982 - would move water
from the Sacramento River around the delta and into the California Aqueduct.
One goal is to get more water to the south without having huge pumps pull it
out of the delta, an action that damages the fisheries and has drawn court
rulings. Opponents believe the canal could choke off water to the delta,
worsening the environmental hazard. 


The governance of the delta. 

Steinberg has proposed a top-to-bottom overhaul of the management of the
delta by setting up a new panel to decide critical policy, expand the power
of California's water-use enforcers and create the position of Delta
Watermaster to ride herd over the delta protections. It establishes a policy
that is protecting the environment and assuring reliable water supplies are
of equal importance - a finding that is a departure from the past. 


It would set up an independent scientific panel to examine the delta's
needs. It includes fines of up to $5,000 per day for illegal diversions of
water. It authorizes the State Water Resources Control Board to initiate
investigations on its own, rather than in response to complaints, and it
requires the state to put into effect an aggressive groundwater management
program.     


The legislation would repeal the California Bay-Delta Authority Act,
currently the principal statute governing the delta, and shifts key
authority to a seven-member Delta Stewardship Council that would decide
delta policy. The Council would be an independent state agency and have
authority over delta development. 


The council also would have a say-so over the Peripheral Canal, a regulatory
hurdle that does not exist in current law. But the council also would be
required to follow the proposed statute, which says delta policy "should
improve the water conveyance system and expand statewide water storage" and
provide a "reliable water supply." 


The bill also contains stringent conservation and groundwater management
programs, details how delta-area local governments will participate in the
management of the delta. It includes conservation requiring a per capita, 20
percent cut in water use by 2020. The water districts' participation in the
program is voluntary, although districts face losses in funding if they
don't participate. 




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Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land

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