FAIRFIELD — It’s suddenly the season for proposed multibillion-dollar state water bonds. Whatever emerges will hit home in Solano County.
An $11.1 billion bond measure crafted by the state Legislature in 2009 is scheduled to be on the November ballot. At least nine bills have been introduced in the Legislature in recent months to replace it. Only one water bond measure can be on the ballot.
Solano County leaders are watching. Any water bond passed by voters could play a key role in how Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water is delivered to local cities. It could play a key role in state efforts to reshape the Delta, including doing habitat restoration in eastern Solano County.
State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, has been crafting her Senate Bill 848 in the public arena since August 2013. She’s called the present $11.1 billion bond measure too expensive and like a Christmas tree with its various earmarked projects throughout the state.
Wolk’s proposed bond initiative is for $6.8 billion, including $900 million for safe drinking water, $2 billion for enhancing water supplies and water supply reliability, $1.2 billion for the Delta, $1.7 billion for improving watershed and ecosystems and $1 billion for water storage.
But, Wolk said earlier this week, it has no money in it for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan favored by the Brown administration would build twin tunnels to take water for 35 miles underneath the Delta for export to Southern California cities and Central Valley farms. The existing export system has seen operations curtailed at times to avoid killing the Delta smelt. Building the tunnels would require Delta habitat restoration to meet Endangered Species Act requirements.
Opponents say the Bay Delta Conservation Plan would hurt the Delta.
“In my view, a bond that includes anything that has to do with tunnels or the BDCP, a bond that becomes a referendum on that project, will fail,” Wolk said.
Wolk said that her bond proposal has been available to the public for months so people could look at it and give opinions.
“That was done deliberately,” Wolk said. “It was put together with the cooperation of the Delta counties and many others.”
Gov. Jerry Brown will have a large voice in what type of water bond is on the November ballot. Wolk said that, as of a week ago, Brown had yet let his views on a water bond be known.
The Solano County Board of Supervisors in April 2013 voted to support Wolk’s efforts, even before Wolk put a price tag on the bond and her bill took its latest shape. Supervisor Skip Thomson, whose 5th District includes part of the Delta, on Thursday said he continues to focus on this particular bill.
He told Wolk that the Delta counties will not support any bill giving money to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, Thomson said. Wolk’s bill achieves that as best as it can, he said.
Also, it has the Delta Conservancy distribute money for Delta projects. Thomson called the conservancy “balanced,” with representation on it from Solano County and other Delta counties.
Finally, Thomson said, the county could compete for bond money to help build new North Bay Aqueduct pumps in the Sacramento River. That would take the pumps away from Barker Slough in eastern Solano County, where water quality can be poor and rare fish can live.
Wolk’s bill has moved through three Senate committees.
Still, Wolk’s bill has opposition, including from the Association of California Water Agencies, California Chamber of Commerce, Westland Water District that serves Central Valley farmers, and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The Association of California Water Agencies wants Wolk’s bill amended to have more money for water storage and Delta sustainability.
Wolk’s bill has competition.
Also in the public eye for some time is Assembly Bill 1331 by Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood. It calls for an $8 billion bond, including $1 billion for safe and clean drinking water, $1.5 billion for ecosystem and water projects and $2.5 billion for water storage capacity.
A bill passed in the Assembly and a bill passed in the Senate would at some point have to be reconciled. Wolk said that her bill and Rendon’s bill have a lot in common.
David Okita, general manager of the Solano County Water Agency, said his agency supports Wolk’s bill. Wolk’s bill and Rendon’s bill are the frontrunners because they’ve been in existence for so long, he said. But no one knows which of the many competing bills will end up going to the governor’s office, he said.
“You have to be fast on your feet, look at those bonds, see which ones are moving and see whatever we’re interested in is included in which bonds are moving,” he said.
Other bills to create a water bond measure for the November ballot are:
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.