Legislators introduce five different bonds addressing water needs


Issue Date: March 18, 2009
Kate Campbell

A stack of bonds aimed at fixing California's over-taxed water storage and delivery system is under consideration by state lawmakers.

No fewer than five bond proposals aimed at addressing water infrastructure needs have been introduced, each with a price tag of about $10 billion to $15 billion. One or more of the new bond proposals could be placed before voters at a future statewide election.

Farm Bureau continues to analyze each of the bond packages, said Danny Merkley, California Farm Bureau Federation director of water resources.

He said Farm Bureau wants to assure that water bond proposals include "a real increase in surface water storage; continuous appropriation of funding for projects; restoration of the delta ecosystem that considers issues facing delta agriculture; protection of water rights, particularly for water rights in areas of origin; and improved conveyance."

Merkley added that Farm Bureau also wants to ensure that any water bond package is well-considered and not rushed onto the ballot.

"Our concern is that any additional bonds be used to finance a well-conceived, comprehensive water strategy for the state," he said, "that does not lead to unintended consequences that harm California's ability to grow its own, healthful food and farm products."

Merkley said he currently is reviewing more than 50 water-related pieces of legislation, including the five bond plans that would address water infrastructure improvement and supply reliability. All five of those bills have similarities to last year's water bond proposal backed by Gov. Schwarzenegger and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

The five bond proposals—four introduced in the Senate and one in the Assembly—include:

  • Senate Bill 301 (Florez, D-Shafter) would authorize the issuance of $15 billion in general obligation bonds to address infrastructure needs.
  • SB 371 (Cogdill, R-Modesto) would authorize the issuance of $9.98 billion in general obligation bonds to finance infrastructure and storage needs.
  • SB 456 (Wolk, D-Davis) would authorize the issuance of $9.805 billion in general obligation bonds to finance water supply reliability and water source protection programs.
  • SB 735 (Steinberg, D-Sacramento) would authorize the issuance of $9.785 billion in general obligation bonds to finance water supply reliability and water source protection programs, while imposing new fees on residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural water users to finance the debt service on the bonds.
  • Assembly Bill 1187 (Huffman, D-Marin, and Caballero, D-Salinas) would authorize the issuance of $10.035 billion in general obligation bonds to finance water supply reliability and water source protection programs, while imposing new fees on water users.

But Merkley emphasized there's another bill in play that bears close attention. SB 12 (Simitian, D-Palo Alto) would establish the Delta Ecosystem and Water Council. The council would be required to prepare and adopt a plan referred to as the California Delta Ecosystem and Water Plan to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem, create a more reliable water supply in California and maintain the economic and social viability of delta farms and communities.

"In layman's terms, the bill addresses the mechanics of funding implementation for a water bond proposal," Merkley explained, "meaning the bill will address implementation of a governance structure for restoring and managing the delta, along with conveyance improvement and construction of new storage facilities. It also will include a conservation and finance plan."

He said Farm Bureau participates in working groups with other stakeholder organizations, which he said "are negotiating the provisions of an infrastructure improvement plan. The plan would provide a framework for allocating funding from one or more of the bonds, if voters approve."

There's a lot to be worked out before any money can be spent on infrastructure improvements, Merkley said, "including the interests of farmers and ranchers, the environment and urban water users, plus the long-term issues both north and south of the delta and within the delta itself.

"These working groups are highly diverse and early discussions have been very challenging, but they're extremely important for the future of the state's water supply and its economy," Merkley said.

He said California is in the midst of "a very serious water situation. Some farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are facing the very real possibility of a zero water allocation. It doesn't get any worse than that. The level of water deliveries south of the delta is highly in question and many Southern California communities are looking at reduced supplies and the possibility of water rationing."

Merkley urged Farm Bureau members to monitor the situation through Ag Alert® and their contacts with local legislators and staff. He also advised watching for Farm Team alerts in coming weeks as the situation unfolds.

To sign up for Farm Team alerts, visit www.cfbf.com and click on the Farm Team logo.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.