bwl3 at comcast.net
Fri Nov 6 19:23:40 PST 2009
A couple of worthwhile articles on the water legislation. Peter Gleick is
at the top as a scientist, in my opinion, and he has no obligation to any
other - completely non-partisan.
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land
415 519 4810 cell
bwl3 at comcast.net
bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org (secondary)
California water bills. Is the new water legislation better than nothing?
A lot of people have asked me my opinion about the new water legislation
just passed in Sacramento. Here is a longer version of my piece in the New
York Times Bay Area blog page.
--Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute
After months of negotiations, wrangling, lobbying, and deal-making, much of
it behind closed doors and out of public view, the California legislature
has just passed a major new water package that includes both complex policy
changes and a huge bond request that the voters will be asked to approve.
Despite the happy face being put on by some of the bill's supporters,
including Governor Schwarzenegger, I doubt anyone is truly happy with the
end result. Perhaps that's too much to expect for a topic as complex as
California water and for a bill that tries to do so much at once. I'm
certainly not happy, but I believe there was a (mostly) good faith effort on
the part of the governor and the legislators and all the other water
interest groups to try and produce something.
What will be the ultimate outcome? Are we going to be better off with this
bill than with no bill? Will California legislators now say they are done
dealing with water, and refuse to tackle the unaddressed, partially
addressed, or badly addressed issues? If so, then this package isn't going
to be nearly enough. But if instead legislators and other water interests
treat it as a beginning, not an end, and work to build and improve on the
good pieces, it could be a major step forward. We'll have to wait and see
how it changes our actual water problems.
The worst thing about the bill was the process. Too few powerful interests
had too much power to determine the content. Anyone who thinks the days of
smoke-filled, back-room deals are over is wrong (except, perhaps, about the
smoke). Too many other people, communities, and organizations were left out
of the process. And while many of us were pressured to support, or oppose,
the bills by various friends and colleagues, it became impossible to even
understand what bill we were being asked to support, as day by day, hour by
hour, good pieces were cut out or weakened and bad things inserted. Even at
the very last minute, the bill was significantly watered down in desperate
deals cut by a few special interests. This is bad, bad process.
The biggest problems with California water have still not been addressed or
fixed in these bills and the most productive question is, how can we move
forward from here?
Water Number: Here are four key unaddressed issues:
1. The State must still figure out how to measure, monitor, and report every
single water use. As stunning as it may seem to outsiders, we still aren't
measuring and metering all water uses, and the new legislation doesn't
require us to. Imagine that you had a bank account, but you didn't know how
much money was in it, you didn't know how much money was going in each
month, and you didn't know how much was being taken out. That's our water
use situation. And while that ignorance benefits some special interests, it
is irresponsible. The modest requirements for comprehensive monitoring
groundwater levels in earlier versions of the bill were fatally weakened at
the last minute and there are still no requirements for reporting actual
groundwater use or all other uses.
2. The State Water Resources Control Board, responsible for overseeing water
rights, enforcing allocations, and preventing water theft and unreasonable
use is far too weak. I've written about this earlier. The Board is hamstrung
by politics and budget constraints. The new bill does not fix those problems
and, in the worst case of last minute, back-room dealing, the modest efforts
to strengthen the Board's ability to monitor, enforce, and penalize were
stripped out or severely weakened.
3. Some bill supporters claim the bill will "implement the Governor's call
to improve water use efficiency by 20 percent by 2020." If only that were
true. Very modest targets for improving water-use efficiency were set in the
bill for urban users only, and even these are not mandatory or enforceable.
More outrageously, however, no such targets were set for agriculture, which
uses 80% of the water used by humans in California. Agriculture remains
largely unaccountable for how they use water.
4. The only sustainable way to support effective water management is through
a user fee on water use. In the long run, asking the voters for bond after
bond will not work. We pay for electricity; we pay for milk. The more we
use, the more we pay. All users should pay a fee for water use based on the
volume of water used. This too was stripped out of early versions of the
Two additional key uncertainties stand out in the current bills:
- We don't really know how the new institutional management structure for
the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is going to play out or whether the bill's
environmental improvements -- strongly supported by some in the
environmental community -- will materialize. It's a big unknown. But the
health of the Delta is central to the problems we face and while key
elements of the bill may lead to ecosystem restoration, they may not. For
some supporters, those potential successes were enough to outweigh the other
liabilities. But it is a gamble.
- We still don't really know if there is going to be a major new
"peripheral" canal, what it is going to look like, where it is going to be
built, and how it is going to be operated. Nor are there any guarantees that
ecosystem protections will be strengthened enough to save the Delta if such
a canal is built. Some supporters believe (and some bill opponents fear)
this bill will smooth the way for a new canal. Time will tell.
If the new California water bill is all there is, it will not be enough to
solve our water problems. If this is a first baby step toward fixing
problems that have been ignored for a century, then I look forward to the
next steps. Soon.
Peter H. Gleick
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/gleick/detail?entry_id=51071
"Historic" Water Bond Would Contribute to Historic Debt
by Greg Lucas
Published November 5th, 2009
Passage of an $11 billion water bond by the Legislature comes just a few
weeks after the state treasurer warned that lawmakers cannot keep issuing
debt willy-nilly and need a master plan to set priorities for its issuance.
Apparently, lawmakers didn't read the treasurer's report on debt levels.
The water bond, which began at $9.4 billion in the Senate and was inflated
to $11 billion in the Assembly, is part of what Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
touts as an "historic, comprehensive" plan to improve the state's water
Legislators wouldn't have needed to wade too deeply into State Treasurer
Bill Lockyer's 2009 Debt Affordability Report. His admonition is contained
in the fifth paragraph of the report's first page:
"The current debate about how to finance improvement to California's water
infrastructure system provides timely and pressing case study," Lockyer
"Some have suggested paying the entire cost with state general obligation
bonds, which must be repaid from the General Fund.
"But this report makes clear that further increasing the General Fund's debt
burden, especially in the next three difficult budgets, would require
cutting even deeper into crucial services already reeling from billions of
dollars in reductions.
"The case for user-funding for most water system improvements is compelling,
both as a matter of equity and fiscal prudence."
Lockyer hasn't taken a position on the water bond but his views about the
need to set priorities on issuing bonds hasn't changed nor has his position
on who should pay for water system improvements, said Tom Dresslar,
Lockyer's press secretary.
"It makes more sense, as a matter of budget management and fairness, for
users to finance most water works improvements, instead of placing the
entire burden on taxpayers and the General Fund," Dresslar said.
The water bond stipulates that no more than 50 percent of the $11 billion
can be sold during the next five years - assuming the bond measure is
approved by voters next November - which reduces the increase in debt
service in the short term.
However, Lockyer's debt affordability report shows the amount of debt
service the cash-starved General Fund pays will already double from $6
billion this year to more than $12 billion in seven years.
That $12 billion in debt service in the 2016-2017 state fiscal year
represents nearly 10.5 percent of the General Fund, up from 6.7 percent this
Most of that higher level of debt service stems from already issued bonds so
"balancing the budget will have to be accomplished with little help from the
debt service side of the ledger," Lockyer's report says.
"At a minimum, the passage of this water bond highlights the critical need
for a master plan that sets priorities for infrastructure development and
lays out a plan to pay for it," Dresslar said, echoing the debt report's
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