Water Package Offers Subsidies – Not Solutions

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, while most Californians were sound asleep, the state legislature passed a package of bills and a bond that rewards bad actors instead of solving the water needs of real people and the environment.  A corner piece of the new deal is a budget-busting $11.1 billion bond headed for next November’s ballot.

During the water package’s development, the Planning and Conservation League had insisted that any solution focus on reducing reliance on an already over-allocated Delta and require dedicated in-stream flows through the Delta and the San Francisco Bay for endangered and threatened fish populations.

The package missed the mark on both fronts. Instead of guaranteeing the flows that species in the Delta need to recover, the package provides no regulatory assurance that the water will be there. Even the legislators’ own staff analyzed this portion of the bill as unenforceable.  This will only worsen the fishery collapse and may lead to even more restrictions on water supply exports from the Delta.

Of the $11 billion borrowing plan, three billion is slated to fund new water storage projects. This pot of money contains rigged criteria to ensure funding for new dam projects.

While the Governor has indicated he will sign them, it is important to note that several legislators pushed for stronger reform and took a stand to protect the environment and smart water solutions. Senators Lois Wolk (D-Davis), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Antioch), Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and Loni Hancock (D-Oakland); along with, Assembly members Joan Buchanan (D-San Ramon), Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) and Alyson Huber (D-Lodi) led the charge.

Others stood up to vote no on the deficiencies in this package: Wesley Chesbro (D-Eureka), Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), Joel Anderson (R-La Mesa), Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks), Jeff Denham (R-Merced), Jim Beall (D-San Jose), Bill Berryhill (R-Stockton), Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine), Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), Paul Fong (D-Mountain View), Ted Gaines (R-Roseville), Mary Hayashi (D-Hayward), Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), Stephen Knight (R-Lancaster), Dan Logue (R-Chico), Jeff Miller (R-Orange), William Monning (D-Santa Cruz), Roger Niello (R-Sacramento), Ira Ruskin (D-Redwood City), Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), Sandre Swanson (D-Oakland), Tom Torlakson (D-Martinez). All of these members deserve our thanks.

In the end, the original goal of substantive water reform did not come through in this package. The fragile Delta ecosystem and California’s water future remain at risk.