[env-trinity] Sac Bee Editorial 11 8 09
bwl3 at comcast.net
Sun Nov 8 11:45:08 PST 2009
Right water policy, dubious finances
Published Sunday, Nov. 08, 2009
In a state as large and fractured as California, it is always cause for
celebration when lawmakers can reach some form of agreement on an issue as
divisive as water.
Water isn't just a precious resource here. It is a theology. Over the
decades, various belief systems have formed around subjects such as dams,
water exports, conservation and subsidies. Adherents of these theologies
have fought so many battles that it is often touchy to gather them in the
Seen in this context, what Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg,
D-Sacramento, has achieved is momentous. The water-policy package he helped
craft pushes the state forward on several fronts.
It takes the first steps toward measuring groundwater use - a sacrilege to
It nudges cities ahead in ending wasteful practices.
It also deals a blow against the forces of obstruction in the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta. For the first time, there is a clear process for examining
alternatives to the current fish-killing water pumps that transport water to
If you are a California resident - not just a member of a particular
interest group - the basic outline of this policy package is worth
Unfortunately, the Senate and Assembly undermined that achievement by
ramming through an $11.1 billion bond proposal that is laden with wasteful
Consider some of the earmarks added to win votes in the wee hours on
Wednesday: $100 million to raise San Vicente Dam in San Diego County from
220 feet to 337 feet; $8 million for the city of Maywood in Los Angeles
County for "water supply upgrades"; $20 million for "habitat projects" in
Ventura County; $50 million for the state university system to fund
"agricultural water research"; $20 million for Siskiyou County for "economic
Thanks to alert reporting by The Bee, Steinberg withdrew a $10 million
earmark he sought for a pet project, a tolerance museum in Sacramento.
Sadly, a similarly harsh spotlight wasn't pointed at other pork - such as
hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that could flow to the Temperance
Dam, a gift to Fresno farmers.
The conventional wisdom in Sacramento is that contentious policy packages
can only be greased with dollars. That may be true, but in this case, voters
may balk at the price tag. At its peak, the bond package would obligate the
state to spend $809 million yearly in annual debt service. That means $809
million less in future years for schools and social programs, barring an
increase in state taxes.
In all likelihood, voters will reject this proposal when it appears on the
November 2010 ballot. With revenues continuing to decline, the state is
poised for another wrenching budget fight. As lawmakers make more cuts to
public education and state parks, voters will be in no mood next year to
finance water pork, no matter how much money is spent on a media campaign.
Phil Isenberg, a former Sacramento mayor and lawmaker who has helped lead
the drive for progressive water legislation, sees some bright spots in last
week's deal. Californians, he told the Los Angeles Times, are "slowly and
painfully coming to terms with a static water supply."
That may be so. Unfortunately, lawmakers have yet to come to terms with a
static supply of public dollars.
As California grapples with its water challenges, fiscal restraint must be a
co-equal goal with increasing supplies.
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land
415 519 4810 cell
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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