Reporter Barry Eberling this week wrote about the various proposed water bonds that are making their way through the California Legislature.
To recap, there are nine, not counting the granddaddy of them all, approved five years ago but twice kept off the ballot. The one with the most traction to date is from our own Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis. All are smaller in scope – and cost – than the bond that’s already approved for this year’s ballot.
The simple answer to the question I pose above is: No one has the water. We’re in the midst of a severe drought – recent rainfall notwithstanding – and coming off the driest year in recorded history for our region.
Yet, the struggle of competing interests remains. Northern California wants to preserve as much water as possible in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, to meet certain environmental concerns but also to preserve the character of the region. Farmers in the Central Valley need it to feed all of us. Residents of Southern California simply want to have enough water to drink, to bathe and to maintain their local economies.
All of these competing concerns were addressed when the Legislature in 2009 passed an $11.1 billion water bond and scheduled it for the next year’s ballot. That bond, you may recall, was pulled off the ballot in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession, and was pulled again in 2012 so as not to compete with the temporary sales tax and income tax hike represented by Proposition 30, which voters approved.
Leaders in both political parties expressed opinions Feb. 19 about the viability of the massive water bond. They did so during questioning by journalists at the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s annual Governmental Affairs Day in Sacramento.
Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, said any water bond that goes before voters this year will be “significantly different” from the Legislature-approved water bond that’s scheduled for the ballot.
Senate GOP Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said the original water bond was an attempt at political balance in terms of the state’s geography, but also in weighing the interests of both ag and urban areas. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, added water reliability and environmental stewardship as among the original water bond’s co-equal goals.
Assembly GOP Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, acknowledged that there are many water bond proposals on the table – including hers – but expressed some frustration that the state has not done anything in recent years that may have blunted the effects of the current drought.
Conway represents a Central Valley district with a significant agricultural base. Her eyes, though, remain focused in part on Northern California.
“We need to honor and protect the Delta,” she said.
That’s good to hear, but not altogether surprising.
I’m familiar with Conway from my time as editor of the paper in Porterville, prior to the move to Fairfield four and a half years ago. I lived nearby in Visalia, the county seat of Tulare County. She’s a conservative, to be sure, but not rabidly so.
For example, when asked how the GOP can revive itself in California, Conway went right to the heart of the matter. She said the issue she sees for her party is one she’s seen since she became GOP leader four years ago – intracaucus struggle.
“(W)e have the strident folks, and we have the reasonable adults,” she said.
That internal struggle remains, she said, although the party’s new chairman is working to position the GOP to better serve the long-term interests of the party.
That, for all of us, should include having a viable and reliable water supply. My words, although I believe Conway would concur.
Steinberg touched on that point. He said the Delta can’t be all things for all people at a time when the population is growing and the amount of available water is not – or in the case of the drought, is diminishing. He wants a detailed analysis of the true needs of the state – after such things as conservation come into play – before the state embarks on a plan to move Delta water south through some sort of new conveyance system.
It’s clear we need to do something. But are any of the 10 plans currently on the table the correct answer? I don’t know. I do know that Central Valley farmers were promised water through the Central Valley Project – which they paid for – and often lose out to Delta environmental concerns. When that happens, tens of thousands of acres of farmland sit fallow.
That’s my perspective from my years in the Central Valley. I now have a better appreciation of the Delta. That’s based on my time here.
So plans by Wolk and Conway and others to put something with less of a debt kick on this year’s ballot sounds like the correct approach, so long as the goals are clearly articulated to meet the needs of as many people as possible.
Reach Glen Faison at 427-6925 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GlenFaison.