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Legislators Back $11 Billion Bond to Remake California’s Water System

Local officials see positives in deal for new storage, conservation, restoration projects

A sweeping overhaul of California’s long-troubled water system was cleared by the Legislature early Wednesday after an all-night session and years of failed attempts.

Central Coast water officials generally had a favorable view of the measure Wednesday. They fully supported infrastructure improvements involving the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and delivery of water to Southern California. Financing of the project, which includes an $11.1 billion bond, was cause for concern.

The wide-ranging package will affect how Californians receive, use and pay for water far into the future. It is the latest attempt to modernize and expand a system that relies on aqueducts, reservoirs and pipelines — some dating from the early 1900s.

The bond in the five-bill legislation narrowly passed the Assembly, although voters will have the final say next November. Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, and state Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, voted for the package.

“There is no reason why California shouldn’t have a dependable water supply,” Strickland said in an e-mail to Noozhawk. “Water is the life source for farmers, businesses, and families though out California.

“This water package will protect water rights, promote conservation in addition to ensuring that California has a reliable water supply for many years to come.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also praised the deal.

“Water is the lifeblood of everything we do in California,” Schwarzenegger said. “Without clean, reliable water, we cannot build, we cannot farm, we cannot grow and we cannot prosper. I am so proud that the Legislature — Democrats and Republicans — came together and tackled one of the most complicated issues in our state’s history.

“This comprehensive water package is a historic achievement.”

Legislative leaders have been working for weeks on the complex package. To attract support for the bond, they added pet projects for every region of the state and virtually every water interest — which swelled the final tab to $11.1 billion. More than $2 billion of that total was added in the last few days of frenetic negotiations.

The deal’s major elements include:

» The $11.1 billion bond to pay for the overhaul, with $3 billion earmarked for new storage, which could be additional reservoirs and groundwater banking, and more than $2 billion to restore the environmentally troubled delta ecosystem. Other bond funding would pay for water recycling, drought relief, conservation and watershed protection.

» A conservation requirement to reduce overall urban water use by 20 percent by 2020. Agencies that fail to meet their targets would not be eligible for state water grants and loans. Agricultural entities must submit efficiency plans but would not face targets.

» New regulations to measure groundwater levels.

» Increased penalties for illegal water diversions, although specific penalties will be added later by the Legislature.

» Creation of a politically appointed seven-member council to oversee the delta, including consideration of peripheral canals to move water around the estuary southward to Southern California.

Bill Brennan, executive director of the Central Coast Water Authority, said that, in general, the blueprint is a good one — and long overdue.

“It’s clear that the delta needs a lot of assistance,” he told Noozhawk, “and water purveyors throughout the state are all in favor of fixing it.”

He also welcomed the inclusion of designated funding for groundwater storage, and not just dams.

“The key is to put more water in the ground during wet years and having the conveyance to get it out during dry ones,” he said, adding that his organization already has been exploring options for underground storage in the North County. The Buellton-based CCWA represents 12 water agencies in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, including the Carpinteria Valley Water District, Goleta Water District, La Cumbre Mutual Water Co., Montecito Water District, city of Santa Barbara and Raytheon in Goleta.

Rebecca Bjork, Santa Barbara’s water resources manager, said her department is intensely interested in the conservation goals, given the city’s participation in the 20-Gallon Challenge. The program promotes conservation measures aimed at reducing water use by 20 gallons a day. Click here for more information.

Santa Barbara has made good progress with conservation, she said, but cautioned that an additional mandated reduction “could be a reach” for the community. It was her understanding, she said, that the state was looking at ways to spread the requirement regionally so communities such as Santa Barbara would not be penalized for their existing best practices.

Brennan, meanwhile, was not entirely comfortable with the financing of the overall plan.

“I, like a lot of folks, are concerned that this is just one of several very large water bond issues in the last few years,” he said. “It’s actually a big concern, especially in this economy.”

In the past five weeks, in fact, California has borrowed more than $10 billion, eroding bond-rating companies’ confidence in the state’s ability to meet its obligations to bondholders. The state already has $60 billion of outstanding long-term general fund debt, and analysts estimate that voter approval of the latest bond would add as much as $60 million a year in debt service.

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk.

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» on 11.04.09 @ 11:01 PM

Could you maybe STOP SPENDING MONEY WE DON’T HAVE YET????? What is it about the word “BROKE” do you not understand?? I CAN’T PAY THE TAXES FAST ENOUGH. That’s it . I’m moving to as Vegas. One more blow on the middle class. Good luck scraping tax money out of the homeless and illegals. That is all that will soon be left in California. Maybe you can go back to wigwams and canoes like you always dreamed of.

» on 11.05.09 @ 12:29 PM

Calid has no money to spend, and the state is bankrupt because we have too many overpaid employees and welfare users depending on us. The taxpayer is getting screwed..Tax and spend liberals have destroyed Calif—Illegals are killing the school system also—arrest and deport before its to late.

» on 11.05.09 @ 01:07 PM

i wonder - what will it take for us to talk about population control?  because, at some point, we will have to talk about it.  moving to las vegas to avoid california taxes?  ok, that works.  moving to las vegas for abundant water?  good luck with that. 

the 20 gallon challenge is a feel-good measure.  more people need more water. 

i can’t support another bond measure.

» on 11.05.09 @ 02:42 PM

So it looks like we have to add 20% for pork. I wonder how Tony Strickland can justify a yes vote. Maybe he thinks this is how we create jobs.

» on 11.05.09 @ 05:18 PM

The local officials who generally favor this solution are part of the parochial problem.

They’ve rarely had the Karl/Reisner “big picture” view of water resources in California and the West over distance or time.

The Legislature’s action reads like what it is - the proverbial racehorse designed by the myopic political committee, resulting in - a deformed Camel.

There’s enough bad stuff to cause long-term damage, but not enough good stuff to result in sustainable long term water supplies.

Given how little requirement (or incentive) there is for Big (corporate) Ag, which uses
80% of CA’s water now, to more effectively conserve, this is a joke.

And with the moving target of Global Climate Change (which Strickland continues to
deny), no one even knows whether this “solution” is viable over time.

Anytime you see people like Nava and Strickland voting on the same side, be Afraid,
be very Afraid!

» on 11.05.09 @ 06:43 PM

Imbedded in this bond are earmarks for dam removals, some of which produce clean, hydroelectric power, along the Klamath River in northern California to the tune of $250 million dollars.  This will not begin to cover the costs.  The environmentalists that were originally for dam removal are now concerned with the impacts.  It boils down to multiple groups promoting their own interests, without common sense and fiscal responsibility entering into the picture.  Please vote NO when this bond comes on the ballot.  It is fraught with potential budget nightmares!

» on 11.05.09 @ 09:20 PM

We sent Strickland to Sacramento because we thought he would help end the spending addiction. Now we can see he’s just another part of the problem. What is in the water in Sacramento that makes these people SPEND SPEND SPEND????

» on 11.05.09 @ 10:28 PM

To attract support for the bond, they added pet projects for every region of the state and virtually every water interest — which swelled the final tab to $11.1 billion. When will someone stand up and eliminate PORK??? Hello Strickland? We are extremely dissappointed in you.

» on 11.05.09 @ 10:29 PM

This on the heels of raising tax witholding 10 percent??????

» on 11.05.09 @ 10:34 PM

“the moving target of Global Climate Change (which Strickland continues to deny)”

In order to deny something, it has to be true to begin with. The planet has actually been on a cooling trend since its peak in 1998, (with increased co2 emission by the way) but apparently you are in denial about that.

» on 11.06.09 @ 02:06 AM

One of the best aspects of my 2003 Recall election proposal for accomodating the territorial imperatives of the Earth’s human population with New California was the revolutionary increase in universal per capita freshwater availability.

My plan called for the accomodation of every individual human being now and ever to be born endowed with a quarter-acre equatorial ocean floating island designed to extract the essentials of survival and interconnected with all other islands via high-speed, electric-drive transportation system and 100-160 Gb/sec optical fiber internet system.

The perimeters of each torus-shaped island are designed as solar vapor condensers(solar stills) that passively convert saltwater to freshwater with the heat of the sun and research confirms that 2.3 liters of freshwater per day are acquired per square meter of vapor condenser surface area. At the equator, it would probably produce more.

Quarter-acre island design would provide roughly 500 square meters of perimeter vapor condenser surface area for an average freshwater production of 1150 liters per day that equals about 300 gallons per day. Currently, California’s average household per person consumption of freshwater is a guilt-ridden 150 gallons per day. New California island habitation would increase the guilt-free freshwater available per person for everyone in the World to 300 gallons per day. It doubles each Californian’s supply of water and for the majority of people in the world that can access only 5 gallons per day, it increases supply by an incredible and revolutionary health-promoting factor of 60.

Ample space would still be available within the quarter-acre defining ring of the vapor condensers for personal habitation, sustenance gardening and aquaculture access to architecturally-optimized areas below the islands.

Using extruded polyethylene as the material of construction with manufacturing production designed for a maximum of 14 billion units, final costs will be unbelievably so low that everyone on Earth can afford one and California could go into the black financially by accomodating everyone on the planet with the dignifying territory and lifetime essentials of survival that maximize the probability of a benignly population-plateaued peaceful world.

Stop preserving a rotten past and embrace the best future. Support my best vision.

» on 11.06.09 @ 01:18 PM

We will pay for water one way or another.  It is a scarce resource that needs protection, and infrastructure improvements.  This legislation is a compromise and it’s one of the few efforts that has support from all sides of the aisle.  I congratulate all who negotiated with all interested parties (that’s all of us).  I congratulate the legislature for finally doing something.  It’s not perfect, but it is vital.

Your water bill is going up.  Have you noticed?  Good luck in Las Vegas.

» on 11.06.09 @ 11:04 PM

Great. Just more debt we need. Sacramento is full of morons.

» on 11.08.09 @ 08:31 PM

NO to California Water Bonds Totaling $11 Billion

Of course we want to ensure our water supply and at the same time protect our environment.  So every few years and sometimes more often the California legislature proposes more money to maintain the water supply.  Unfortunately the actual amount of available water has declined.  Many reservoirs are well below their capacity.  Rationing of water has become a state wide fact.  This would certainly be a time when Californians would approve a bond measure to improve the system.

Is that how the legislature decided on a $11.1 billion bond proposal?  Apparently the answer is yes.  The problem is that this bill appears to be more about building water projects we do not need rather than addressing the issue of water distribution.  If passed, this bond issue will provide money for lots of contractors and $10 million for a Sacramento center for social tolerance that has nothing to do with water.  This fact was exposed by Sacramento Bee reporter and columnist Dan Walters.  Mr. Walters says this bond issue doesn’t address the issues.

Here is a list voter approved water projects from just this past decade I found on the internet.

Proposition 13. In March 2000, California voters approved Proposition 13 (2000 Water Bond), which authorizes the State of California to sell $1.97 billion in general obligation bonds to support safe drinking, water quality, flood protection and water reliability projects throughout the State.

Proposition 40. In March 2002, California voters approved Proposition 40, a $2.6 billion state bond measure for conservation, neighborhood parks, and coastline and watershed protection. Proposition 40 was the largest conservation bond measure ever approved in California.

Proposition 50. In November 2002, the $3.4 billion water bond measure, the largest in California history, was approved by voters. It provides $825 million in funding for CALFED for a variety of programs, including surface water storage studies, water conveyance facilities, levee improvements, water supply reliability projects, ecosystem restoration, watershed programs, conservation and water recycling. More on Proposition 50 is available at

Proposition 84.  In November 2006 California voters approved this measure that will fund water, flood control, natural resources, park and conservation projects by authorizing $5,388,000,000 in general obligation bonds. The bonds will be used to fund various projects aimed at (1) improving drinking and agricultural water quality and management; (2) preserving, restoring and increasing public access to rivers and beaches; (3) improving flood control. See details of the law at

My calculator says these propositions spent more than $13 billion.  The cost to pay back those bonds with interest will most likely be double that amount.  Unless I hear some startling reason for this waste of tax dollars we should all vote NO to this give away.

Updates at my BLOG:

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