To Address California’s Water Issues, We Must Borrow Big Bucks — Again, But Will We?

by Robin Yeager on 11/18/2009

in Water

I wonder how many of us regular folk were relieved to hear that our (won’t act until it’s a full-blown crisis) Legislature finally passed a batch of water bills, then had a heckuva time figuring out what exactly, or even roughly, our elected officials had agreed to, other than it would require us to vote a year from now on whether to take on $11 billion more in debt. And that was before today’s revelation (see the LA Times) that the State is looking at a $21 billion deficit into 2011. Further evidence that Californians should vote to change the 2/3 tax and budget rules.

Back to the water bills. Initial media reports advised that the package is complex, that changes were being made to accommodate various interests up until the final vote, and that legislators were congratulating themselves for doing their jobs. You probably learned that the bills ensure water supply reliability, promote conservation and address environmental concerns/issues. All well and good but if you want to know how these admirable and necessary goals will be met, you had to do a lot of digging.

Urban residents must reduce their water use by a certain percentage, depending on where they live, by 2020. This should not be difficult. Californians respond well to requests for conservation. We just have to be reminded. For example, Manhattan Beach residents and businesses reduced their water use by 24% shortly after the city enacted and publicized a water conservation ordinance. Long Beach touted the more than 20% reduction, from FY 98 to FY 07, in October’s per capita water demand. See the Earth Times article. Second, since roughly half of urban water is used for outdoor landscaping, it’s past time for property owners to re-design their lawns.

California will finally join the rest of the country and implement a statewide groundwater monitoring program. This is a no-brainer and should have been implemented long ago yet it took the third year of a drought for rural and agribusiness interests, which still managed to limit the program’s scope, to yield a little ground to the greater good.

An appointed governing council will oversee planning and management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The $11.14 general obligation water bond would provide funds for water management projects, ecosystem protections, drought relief projects and water storage facilities. Given the size of the bond proposal, the ongoing deficit, staggering unemployment (which fingers crossed will improve well before next fall) and voters’ general disdain for our legislature (despite its success on the water front), initiatives promoting bonds for individual projects, paid for by users rather than taxpayers, might have a better chance at the polls.

For a more detailed report on the legislation, check out Barry Nelson’s post on NRDC’s Switchboard and his op ed in The Sacramento Bee.

Thanks to builder Steve Doyle for the water bill links.



Laer Pearce 11/19/2009 at 10:12 am

Nicely done! You might also mention that the legislation finally succeeded in bringing water, farm, environmental and business interests together – a very unlikely alliance in California, and indicative of how real the water crisis is, and how important it is to achieve a sustainable – not resource-exploitative – solution.

I’m on the water/business side of this effort and I don’t have a quibble with anything you wrote.

Wes Rolley 11/19/2009 at 11:34 pm

Who ever thinks that the new legislation will make groundwater monitoring happen, did not read Sheila Kuehl’s essay today.

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