[env-trinity] Sacramento Bee Editorial 7 8 2010

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Thu Jul 8 09:35:04 PDT 2010


Editorial: Pricey water bond deserves a revamp


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a savvy enough political player to see a punch
coming before it lands. That's why he called on lawmakers last week to delay
a November ballot vote on a proposed $11.1 billion water bond.

That was a wise move by the governor, but not wise enough. Instead of hoping
for more support in 2012, he and state lawmakers should repeal the water
bond legislation and come back with a smaller, equitable and less
pork-filled package that could be more easily sold to voters.

Much has been written about how lawmakers cobbled together this $11.1
billion Christmas tree in the wee hours of Nov. 4. As lawmakers held out for
more and more projects for the price of their vote, the tree became
festooned with all kinds of ornaments. The cost of the bond package grew by
nearly $2 billion.

The final package, approved as part of a sweeping set of reforms aimed at
restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and improving water reliability,
includes a little something for everyone. There is $20 million to help
Siskiyou County with economic development; $100 million for watershed
restoration in Lake Tahoe; $100 million for the San Vicente Reservoir in San
Diego and more than $1 billion for unspecified projects - in other words,
handshake deals.

Given the national backlash against self-serving "earmarks," it is stunning
that lawmakers and the governor thought they could get away with this. Yet
the proverbial pork barrel is not the only reason this law should be
repealed and revamped. Another fatal flaw? Its reliance on general
obligation bonds to build water projects that, in part, should be financed
by beneficiaries.

It's a watershed issue. Everyone in the Sacramento-San Joaquin watershed is
a stakeholder in the Delta and its tributaries. Water districts that export
water from the Delta have an even bigger stake. These are the entities that
should be paying for fixes in the Delta and new water storage - not
taxpayers on the North Coast or other regions that will gain nothing from
such investments.

For months, Schwarzenegger and his water advisers have defended the use of
general obligation bonds, noting that voters approved such bonds in 1960 to
build the State Water Project. While that claim is true, it is only half the
story. As Norris Hundley Jr. notes in his history of California water, "The
Great Thirst," the State Water Project was in trouble in the weeks before
the bond vote. Four days before the election, the Metropolitan Water
District of Southern California agreed to support the state plan and sign a
contract obligating it to pay for its share of the project. Voters then
approved the State Water Project by a narrow margin - 174,000 votes out of
5.8 million cast.

With the current bond proposal, potential beneficiaries have signed no
contracts. Although supporters say the bond plan includes language that
would require such parties to later pony up money, the lack of contracts
potentially leaves taxpayers on the hook to pay for projects such as
Temperance Flat reservoir (sought largely by San Joaquin Valley farmers),
Sites reservoir (sought largely by Northern California growers) and
groundwater cleanup projects that would mainly benefit Southern California.

California needs to invest in its water future, but it must make smart
investments - and equitable ones. Before voters are asked to authorize more
general fund debt on top of existing debt, the beneficiaries of water
projects need to be identified and obligated to pay for their fair share.
One way to do this is with a water fee.

This won't be easy. The state's water buffalos are notoriously uneager to
put their money where their mouths are. Yet if state leaders could forge a
fair-share agreement with a fee, they could then go to voters with an $11
billion package that would only rely on borrowing for - say - half that
amount. Voters would be more likely to endorse this balanced approach.

As is, this $11.1 billion bond is doomed to die of its own weight.



Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land/fax

415 519 4810 mobile

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org

 <http://fotr.org/> http://www.fotr.org 




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