Governor calls special legislative session on water


Issue Date: October 14, 2009
Kate Campbell

Although state lawmakers didn't reach agreement on a deal to fix California's broken water system by the Oct. 11 deadline imposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, he said in the final minutes before midnight Sunday that he'd found enough progress in efforts to solve the state's crippling water supply problems to call a special session of the Legislature.

Members have been called back to Sacramento and they're preparing to discuss a package of bills. The bill package includes a policy bill—a five-part bill sequence that was rolled into a single omnibus bill—and a bond measure that would require a two-thirds majority vote for passage.

Farm advocates characterize the package as "inadequate," but say they will continue working to encourage passage of comprehensive water-system improvements.

In calling another special session of the Legislature, Schwarzenegger said he will ask legislators to consider and act on bills to protect and restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, while also enhancing the reliability and quality of water supplies from the estuary.

The governor has also asked that short- and long-term improvements to California's water management system include development of new surface and groundwater storage and improved conveyance facilities, ecosystem health and conservation strategies.

In the wake of a three-year drought and a government shutoff of the water transfer pumps in the delta that help move supplies south to farms, ranches and an estimated 25 million residents, the state's water supply and reliability problems have become dire.

One of the biggest sticking points in negotiations among the governor and legislative leaders appears to have been the size and thrust of general obligation and lease revenue bonds to build new facilities.

"Farm Bureau supports continued efforts to solve water problems that have plagued us for far too long, but we are concerned that the priorities of only a narrow group of stakeholders have been addressed in the bill package," said Rich Matteis, California Farm Bureau Federation administrator. "Our concern is that the needs of all Californians must be reflected in any comprehensive solution."

Matteis said that at this point there is uncertainty about how the special session will be conducted: What the timelines will be, what opportunities for stakeholder input will exist and other details have not been made clear. He said Farm Bureau members should look to Farm Team for important updates on the deliberations during the special legislative session on water.

"From Farm Bureau's perspective, there are key elements that must be included in any comprehensive package of water bills—and certain elements that must not be included,"Matteis said.

He said the priorities of California's farmers and ranchers continue to be new water storage facilities, improved water conveyance, protections for area-of-origin water rights and environmental improvements.

"What I can say at this point, is that the package that has been negotiated up to now is inadequate and must be fixed substantially," said CFBF Director of Water Resources Danny Merkley. "We will continue to be engaged in the developments during the special session and we'll be supportive if it looks like they're coming up with the right deal.

"No one has to be reminded how important a reliable water supply is for our state, but I would emphasize that without reliable water supplies, we can't grow the food for our state, nation and the world," he said.

For information on joining Farm Team and tracking developments during the special legislative session on water, go to www.cfbf.com.

(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.