Friday, 19 July 2024

North Coast legislators weigh in on state water package

NORTH COAST – The state's proposed water package is getting mixed reviews from North Coast legislators.

The $11.1 billion legislative package takes on a laundry list of critical state water issues, from sustainability of the Bay Delta to water storage, drought relief and regional water supply, and reportedly includes establishing a statewide target to reduce urban per capita water use by 10 percent by 2015 and 20 percent by 2020.

The part of the legislation that may affect Lake County the most relates to the Bay Delta. Clear Lake drains into Cache Creek which, in turn drains into the delta, which is a critical source of water for urban an agricultural interests in the south.

On Oct. 11 Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special legislative session to address the state's water crisis, saying that it was damaging the state's economy – particularly in the agricultural and building sectors.

The state's water system now serves 38 million residents, more than twice the 16 million for which it originally was built, Schwarzenegger's office reported.

Package elements include SB 7x 1, which establishes oversight agencies for delta governance and planning; SB 7x 7, which sets 20 percent water conservation by 2020; SB 7x 6, pertaining to groundwater elevation management; SB 7 x8, which provides for investments in delta levee repair and ecosystem restoration, storage facilities, water recycling and watershed protection, and authorizes the use of $546 million from Proposition 84; and the water bond, SB 7x 2, which places the overall $11.1 million package on the November 2010 statewide general election ballot.

Out of the session resulted a water package scheduled to go before voters in November 2010. Earlier this month Schwarzenegger called it “an historic achievement.”

But that sentiment isn't shared by North Coast Assemblyman Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata), who voted against the package.

On Wednesday Chesbro issued a statement in which he called the legislation “a wolf in sheep's clothing.”

Chesbro said he strongly supports removing the Klamath dams, but added, “Funding removal of the Klamath dams while at the same time threatening the flows in the Trinity River is a fool’s bargain. We need to find a way to fund dam removal that doesn’t put the Trinity and our other North Coast rivers at risk.”

He explained that $3 billion is included in the bond, SB 7x 2, to fund water storage projects to the south.

Chesbro said those projects will increase pressure for diversion of more Northern California river water, and he asserted that the Trinity River is at greatest risk, because of existing dams and pipelines to the Sacramento River. That, in turn, increases the pressure on the Klamath fisheries.

“This would be a general obligation bond, which means they want to take our water and then make us help pay for it,” said Chesbro.

He said this would be the first time California has issued a general obligation bond for water development projects, Previously, such projects were paid for with revenue bonds, which means those who benefit from the water pay for it.

It's the big water users in the south who would reap the most benefits, said Chesbro.

In addition, he said more than $2 billion in pork was added to the package to get the votes of Southern California legislators. In turn, $100 million proposed for Northern California coastal salmonid restoration projects was cut in half, he said.

Chesbro said groups such as the Regional Council of Rural Counties and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations oppose the bond and the whole water package. He said Northern California tribes have expressed strong skepticism of the legislation.

“This is the wrong time for California to take on billions more in debt. We are in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” he said.

Chesbro cited a Legislative Analyst’s Office prediction that the state is facing several years of multibillion-dollar deficits, and issued warning that the state’s bond debt service will consume an “unprecedented” 10 percent of the general fund – or about $600 million a year – if the measure passes.

Like Chesbro, North Coast Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) criticized the water bond, which she voted against, although she voted for other pieces of legislation in the bill.

In a statement issued late last week, Wiggins said she voted against SB 7x 2 – which places the $11.1 million bond on the ballot Nov. 2, 2010 – for several reasons, among them her concern that the projects the bill might fund projects including a peripheral canal, and dams and dam expansions.

“I have been strongly supportive of efforts to remove the dams on the Klamath River, which have wreaked havoc on salmon fisheries and other ecosystems downstream,” Wiggins said. “While this bond would include $250 million to help take down those dams, I don't believe the financing should come at the expense of new dams that would harm communities in other parts of the state.”

Wiggins also called the bond “fiscally irresponsible,” coming at a time when the state is facing more budget deficits and, as a result, more cuts in the coming year. “That money should be spent directly on education, health care and other essential services, not debt payments,” she said.

She offered support for the rest of the package, which she said was brought about by an “unprecedented coalition” of groups – business, environmental, industry and utilities. Wiggins said all of the package's elements are based on years of scientific studies and recommendations from the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Commission and the Delta Vision Committee.

The Governor's Office offered the following breakdown of the $11.1 billion water package's expenditures:

– Drought relief: $455 million for drought relief projects, disadvantaged communities, small community wastewater treatment improvements and safe drinking water revolving fund.

– Regional water supply: $1.4 billion for integrated regional water management projects up and down the state and for local and regional conveyance projects.

– Delta sustainability: $2.25 billion for projects that support delta sustainability options – levees, water quality, infrastructure and to help restore the ecosystem of the Delta.

– Water storage: $3 billion for public benefits associated with water storage projects that improve state water system operations, are cost effective, and provide net improvement in ecosystem and water quality conditions.

– Watershed conservation: $1.7 billion for ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration projects in 21 watersheds including coastal protection, wildlife refuge enhancement, fuel treatment and forest restoration, fish passage improvement and dam removal.

– Groundwater cleanup and protection: $1 billion for groundwater protection and cleanup.

– Water recycling and water conservation: $1.25 billion for water recycling and advanced treatment technology projects as well as water conservation and water use efficiency projects.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

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