Major Deal Overhauling State’s Water System Reached

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By Andrew Michael

Today, after many days and a long night of debate in the Legislature, lawmakers passed a long awaited, comprehensive water package. We expect the Governor will sign off on this five-bill package – which will bring a much needed overhaul to the State’s antiquated water system. The package includes an $11.1 billion bond measure that will be up for voter approval in November 2010.

Our work in this area, with the leadership of Jim Levine, Chair of our Water Policy Committee and many members, in collaboration with over 15 major business associations from around the state, has led the effort to reform California’s water governance system. Thanks to those of you who recently urged the legislature to adopt a strong governance structure in the new water plan. Many of the reforms sought by the Bay Area Council are included in the bills that were passed this morning.

The Bay Area Council has been leading efforts to resolve water issues affecting the state and the Bay-Delta for many years. It was the Council’s leadership at the beginning of the millennium that sought to bring together all parties from the water, environmental, business, and agricultural community in the CalFed process.

In recent years, the Bay Area Council has worked with other business groups, and water agencies in northern and southern California, Delta representatives, and with major environmental groups to explore solutions to a water and ecological system in crisis. Through this new collaboration of leaders from Northern and Southern California, we found more in common than we had expected, and came together on a number of common sense strategies to resolve the difficult issues of water supply reliability and ecosystem recovery.

We are heartened by the water deal but there is much more work ahead. We plan to continue our work – with your help – on this very important issue. There is a case to be made that the package doesn’t go far enough – but given the complexities of the issues and the challenge of passing meaningful legislation – we think this package is a good outcome. We congratulate the Legislature for their work and the Governor for calling the special session.
Highlights of the water package include:

• Oversight: A new seven-member board to oversee the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The board would consist of gubernatorial and legislative appointees, along with the head of an existing delta commission. The board could approve a controversial peripheral canal to channel water around the delta.

• Conservation: A 20-percent conservation mandate for urban areas, with credits for cities that have made significant conservation efforts. Agricultural entities will have to follow best practices for water use.

• Groundwater Monitoring: New regulations to monitor groundwater levels throughout the state.

• Water Rights: Increased penalties for illegal water diversions, although the penalties and enforcement were significantly weakened from an earlier plan.

• Financing: A $11.1 billion bond to pay for the overhaul. Of the total, $3 billion would be set aside for new water storage, which could be reservoirs, and more than $2 billion would go toward restoration of the delta ecosystem. Other money in the bond would pay for water recycling, drought relief, conservation and watershed protection projects.

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