Keeping Storage In Water Bond Is Goal
Discussion is increasing in many quarters on what new forms California’s long-proposed water infrastructure bond should take if its bottom line is to shrink but the leader of the state’s largest water organization says funding for new above-ground storage remains an important part of the equation.
Timothy Quinn, Association of California Water Agencies Executive Director, told Friant Water Authority board members April 25 in Visalia that ACWA directors, which represent water agencies from all parts of California, remain committed to the water bond and to storage development.
“There is solidarity among ACWA’s diverse membership to protect the storage,” Quinn said.
Discussions have begun informally on possible modifications of the bond now scheduled to appear on the November 2014 ballot.
Not everyone – including some in high places – feels storage should survive as debate increases over whether or how to restructure the water bond measure approved by the Legislature in 2009 but delayed twice subsequently from appearing on the ballot.
There have been rumblings that some legislators would prefer to reduce the amount of money allocated for three major storage projects that are a priority to growers, including the proposed Temperance Flat Dam and Reservoir on the San Joaquin River upstream from Friant Dam.
The other storage projects under consideration are Sites Reservoir, which would be an off-stream facility in Colusa County, and enlargement of Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County.
State Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said in March he would like the bond to include less money for storage and more for conservation, safe drinking water and restoring the Delta. Storage projects and funding have not been included in, and in some cases have been stripped from, numerous water bond measures that have gone before voters over the past 25 years.
The challenge facing lawmakers, the Brown administration and water agencies is a seemingly broad desire to reduce the proposed $11.14 billion bond’s total, which in turn means reducing or eliminating projects, activities or objectives included through delicate bipartisan compromise.
(The measure enacted into law in 2009 remains on the books. If no modification were undertaken, the bond would appear as originally proposed on the November 2014 ballot.)
“Shrinking a bond is hard to do,” Quinn said. He added, however, that an ACWA committee framing the association’s position has focused on storage infrastructure, Delta sustainability, environmental improvements and water quality protections for disadvantaged communities.
“Your interests are pretty well protected in the direction the ACWA policy is going,” Quinn said to the Friant board. He said the biggest bond cuts ACWA is embracing involve urban projects and local resource projects, for which large water agencies are better equipped to provide funding.
ACWA’s positions propose reducing the water bond to $8.2 billion. The amount proposed to be devoted to water storage projects such as Temperance Flat would remain at $3 billion under the ACWA proposal.
A MAJOR STEP
Quinn said that since the 2009 comprehensive water package’s enactment into law, “We have known we would need a substantial amount of public money. We need public dollars for public benefits. This bond is a major step in that direction.”
Such bond revenues are vital, Quinn has repeatedly said, if major solutions to the state’s water crisis are to be addressed successfully, particularly in the ecologically troubled Delta.
That estuary, near Stockton, Brentwood and Sacramento, is also crucial to the water supply relied upon by 26 million of the state’s residents and agricultural production on well over 3 million acres. It is the focus of major ongoing planning efforts, such as the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), which seek to improve the environment and water supply reliability. (Please see related stories, Page 3.)
“I can’t imagine BDCP being successful without water bond,” Quinn said. He added that he believes “the odds are pretty good we’ll get the bond get through the Legislature” and noted there is “even some support from the environmental community” and decreased resistance among large urban interests against water storage development.
Meanwhile, at ACWA’s semi-annual conference in Sacramento, Senate leader Steinberg said more formal discussions to revise the bond should begin this year and potentially include language regarding operation of new conveyance facilities in the Delta. He said the bond and BDCP are “functionally separate” but are related processes that may require a shift in thinking may be needed to move forward with both.
“Let’s be honest. They’re not separate,” Steinberg said. “One really doesn’t happen without the other in this environment in my view … Unless and until we find a resolution to the BDCP process, there is not going to be the momentum, the political push or the support to make revising the water bond a reality for the 2014 ballot.”
He suggested that the bond be revised to include operational rules and guarantees for the BDCP conveyance system while scaling down the measure’s scope and spending. Steinberg said, however, that the “template” is “fundamentally sound.”
Friant’s board earlier this year took a new policy position on the bond. The policy shifted from an endorsement of the original proposal to favoring inclusion of several crucial goals and objectives in any bond revision, including storage and co-equal Delta goals of water supply and the environment.