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"The problem with constructing new dams or “improving conveyance” is that California water is already grossly overallocated. California has 77 million acre feet in annual runoff in a state with a water budget of 85 million acre feet – and where  over half a billion acre feet is authorized for use."

Bill Jennings, Executive Director, CSPA

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Conservation Groups Blast Schwarzenegger/Feinstein Water Bond Proposal 

by Dan Bacher, editor of the Fish Sniffer

July 29, 2008. As Governor Schwarzenegger threatens to cut the salaries of 200,000 state workers to the $6.55 federal minimum wage to supposedly ease the state’s projected budget deficit  of $17.2 billion, Schwarzenegger and Senator Dianne Feinstein are campaigning for a enormously costly and destructive "compromise" $9.3 billion water bond proposal that includes more dams and a peripheral canal.

Fishing and environmental groups strongly criticized the proposal for furthering imperiling already collapsing Central Valley and Delta fisheries while further indebting California taxpayers, while Democratic Legislators urged the Governor to spend $800,000,000 already allocated before talking about another water bond.

The latest proposal follows the Governor’s signing of an executive order in June declaring a statewide drought that directed state agencies and departments to “take immediate action” to address the drought conditions and water delivery reductions that exist in California. Schwarzenegger also proclaimed a state of emergency in nine Central Valley counties to address urgent water needs: Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern.  

This water bond proposal calls for "increased water storage to ensure our water supply is more reliable year-to-year and we’re able to capture excess water in wet years to use in dry years" and "improved water conveyance to reduce water shortages" - a euphemism for the peripheral canal.

"The goal of this plan is to break the long-standing stalemate over water,” Senator Feinstein gushed, evoking the failed "can't we all come together" pseudo-consensus language that her and Schwarzenegger revel in. “California is facing an unprecedented water crisis. The combination of drought, court ordered water restrictions, global warming, and an increasing population has placed a major strain on the existing infrastructure.

She continued, “We need to prepare now for the future. This language is comprehensive, balanced and could help increase water supplies to meet the needs of the environment, our cities, and agriculture. I hope that all sides can come together around a consensus plan that can be approved this November.”

Governor Schwarzenegger echoed, “There is an urgent need for comprehensive water reform, and this bipartisan plan is offered as a potential compromise that puts us on the path toward restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, expanding water supplies and promoting conversation efforts that will ensure a clean, reliable water supply for California,”

In a joint statement, the bipartisan duo claimed that the water bond would somehow restore collapsing Central Valley salmon and Delta fish species, although not specifying how this would be done with more dams and an  “improved conveyance.” 

The statement continues, “In two of the past three years, our once thriving Pacific salmon fisheries have been simply shut down as former salmon strongholds throughout the state have become dangerously imperiled. The populations of Delta smelt and other native Delta fish have collapsed to tiny fractions of their former levels. Threats from aquatic invasive species, toxic discharges and pesticides abound.  Restoring our fisheries and our riparian ecosystems in the face of all these challenges will require bold action.” 

Fishing groups said this proposal does nothing to further real water conservation or ecological preservation, but is just another version of the Governor and Feinstein's earlier, outdated proposals to bail out corporate agribusiness, construct new dams and build the canal.

“We already have $6 billion in bond money that the state hasn’t spent yet,” said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “This is just the latest scheme to raid the people’s pocketbooks to further subsidize already subsidized water contractors.”

He criticized the proposal for including plans to build Sites Reservoir on the west side of the Sacramento Valley and Temperance Flat Reservoir on the San Joaquin River east of Fresno. “The Governor and Feinstein are trying to force through the dams even though they will have little yield in water,” said Jennings. “Also, the Sites Reservoir would store water in mercury laden sediments.”

The problem with constructing new dams or “improving conveyance” is that California water is already grossly overallocated. California has 77 million acre feet in annual runoff in a state with a water budget of 85 million acre feet – and where  over half a billion acre feet is authorized for use, according to Jennings.

Jennings said that Feinstein, Schwarzenegger and other policy makers “have to realize that we  live in an arid state and the water bond is predicated on an abundance of water that doesn’t’ exist.”

In spite of Schwarzenegger’s and Feinstein’s claims that the bond will somehow restore the Delta ecosystem, Jennings noted that it will only “further exacerbate the demise of Central Valley fisheries.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign coordinator of Restore the Delta, was also very displeased with the Governor’s bond proposal.

“As was the case in 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger made what appears on the surface to be another move to short-circuit his own mandated Delta planning process, Delta Vision, by calling for a bipartisan $9.3 billion water bond,” she said. “The joint statement sent out by the Governor and Senator Diane Feinstein calls for (in nebulous language) "improved conveyance" that will take the pressure of the Delta.

“Restore the Delta staff is very suspicious of the lack of details regarding Delta conveyance included in their joint statement as well as the timing of this proposed bond,” she stated. “Could it be that this initial bond is somehow supposed to finance the proposed Delta Vision Strategic Draft Plan? While the $3 billion figure for improved state water conveyance would not cover the entire cost of a new through Delta pipeline, could money for a new facility be forthcoming from other sources?

She also questioned why the Governor is calling for this new bond when California has an $18 billion deficit and is in its  third week of operating without a state budget.

The Planning and Conservation League (PCL) criticized the bond for including provisions that would limit future legislative oversight for water storage projects and projects affecting the Bay Delta, including the unprecedented continuous appropriation of $3 billion for water storage projects. "If approved, the water bond would bypass the legislature and grant allocation authority to the defunct California Water Commission (which is a commission entirely appointed by the Governor and which currently has no appointed members)," said Mindy McIntire, PCL's Water Program Manager.

"The proposal also includes confusing language that seems to limit the Legislature's ability to engage in a solution to fix the Delta by requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to change or amend any portion of the proposal's directives regarding the Delta," she added.

"New dams and the Peripheral Canal truly represent a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem," summed up Steve Evans in a letter to Feinstein and Schwarzenegger. "We respectfully urge you to reconsider your support for this budget-busting and environmentally destructive bond measure."

Senate President pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) also criticized the Governor’s proposed $9.3 billion water bond measure, saying the best way for California to boost water supply quickly is to put the $9 billion in bond money approved by voters in 2006 to work.  However, fishing and environmental groups were alarmed by his increasing willingness to sponsor a compromise water bond with Schwarzenegger and Feinstein, drawing fears that the final version could include a peripheral canal and dams.   

“This latest bond proposal shares many similarities to one I put up for a vote last September, before the state encountered its current fiscal crisis,” he concluded. “ I am open to doing a water bond."

Perata said the state should spend the bond money voters approved in 2006 - and then pass a “responsible budget” that can pay for the debt service on a new bond. “Once we do that, we’ll sit down with the Governor and Republicans to draft a bond measure to secure the state’s long-term water supply,” he explained.

On July 14, Perata and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) further indicated their willingness to come up with a compromise bond when they announced that they would push legislation to fund “water storage, reliability and conservation efforts” with already approved bond money.

"It's imperative that we get to work immediately improving water conservation, water storage and water management -- and that's exactly what these two bills do," Bass said. "This package sets a realistic target for boosting water conservation and uses already approved bond money to make big improvements in California's water system."

“Just like California’s transportation infrastructure, our water system must be overhauled and upgraded to meet the growing demands of the 21st century,” Perata said. “These bills take an important first step by quickly getting more than $800 million out the door and making conservation a top priority.”

The two bills are:

• SB 1XX (Second Extraordinary Session), by Perata. This bill appropriates $812.5 million in Proposition 84 and Proposition 1-E dollars already approved by the voters in 2006. These funds are desperately needed by water agencies to address the current water drought and fire crisis and to provide immediate investments in water supply reliability.

• AB 2175, by Assemblyman John Laird (D-Santa Cruz). This bill establishes a 20 percent water conservation target for most urban water agencies by the year 2020.  It essentially says that within 12 years, the state will meet one-fifth of its water needs through more efficient use of the water we have. 

“Perata's now talking compromise with the governor,” contended Jerry Neuburger, CSPA webmaster. “Is the legislature sailing us down the peripheral canal?"

Everybody who cares about the future of the California Delta, West Coast fisheries and California water supplies should oppose Schwarzenegger and Feinstein’s proposal – and urge Bass and Perata to not include dams and a peripheral canal in any final “compromise” bond proposal.

Write, call or visit your Legislators today and phone or write Governor and Dianne Feinstein about your strong opposition to their plan that will result only in the further decline of imperiled chinook salmon, delta smelt, longfin smelt, striped bass, green sturgeon and other fish populations.  I strongly urge you to sign on to the letter authored by Steve Evans of Friends of the River opposing the proposal

For more information on the legislation, go to www.calsport.org, www.restorethedelta.org and www.friendsoftheriver.org.

Action Alert from Steve Evans, Friends of the River: Ten Problems With the Water Bond Proposal