$12bn water bill

Posted on | September 8, 2009 | 3 Comments

water&reliefMIDNIGHT Friday September 11th is the deadline for passage in the California state legislature of a bill, or package of bills, aimed at solving the state’s water crisis before the end of the 2009 legislative season.

Potential cost? $12bn.

Who will it affect?

Every Californian who needs water.

Provided that a water package is passed [a bigger if by the day] the next time that many Californians may hear of it could be when the bond measure covering the cost appears on November ballots in 2010.

To judge from draft bond measures now in circulation, that price ranges between $11.7 and $12.395bn, though some estimates put the figure far higher. So, averaged out, think of the potential price tag of the bill(s) as roughly $330 and rising for every Californian.


Key to the legislation is resolving the crisis in the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, pictured left, the largest estuary on the Pacific coast in the U.S., and source of fresh water for an estimated 23m Californians. Here crashing fish populations and federal protections have forced controversial reductions of pumping with knock-on cuts of water deliveries to agricultural and urban users in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

This in turn set in train the summer’s vitriolic fish-vs-people debate, which prompted Governor Schwarzenegger to recently write to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar condemning federal enforcement methods in protecting endangered fish such as the Delta Smelt and Green Sturgeon.

The Governor has also indicated to state legislature leaders in the senate and assembly that he will not sign any bill without new reservoirs and groundwater storage. Meanwhile, state senate and assembly leaders have formed a bipartisan legislative working group in an attempt to get an ambitious package of water bills to a vote by September 11th.

Front and center of any pending bill is construction of a peripheral canal, or tunnel, around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (aka the “Bay-Delta”), a project that voters rejected in 1982. The canal would divert water from the Sacramento River instead of pulling water from within the delta system.

Critics say that removal of the fresh river water and the resulting intensification of salinity and pollutants in the delta would further damage, even destroy, its historic fisheries. They believe that relief to water shortages may be found in conservation above and beyond current water use restrictions.

Proponents of the peripheral canal contend that it would make managing the delta easier as part of a multi-species conservation plan that would attend any canal project. They also point to failing levees and predictions that sea level may rise 55 inches by 2100** due to climate change.

As California Senate speaker pro-tem Darrell Steinberg sees it, inaction is not an option. “Twenty three million Californians rely on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for water,” he said as he began the legislative push for these bills last week. “Science shows that the Delta is dying from pollution and neglect. Water is being rationed, jobs are being lost and fish are becoming extinct.”

Working the editorial pages of papers up and down the state for Steinberg and a peripheral canal has been Timothy Brick, chairman of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. For a special page on the revived canal proposal and Bay-Delta crisis, along with links to many of the draft bills from the  Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, click here.

For a history of the Delta and its issues from MWD, click here.

Links to draft bills may also be found in Peter Gleick’s August 6th City Brights column in the San Francisco Chronicle and on the legislative working group’s website Focus on Water.

Click here for a draft version of an $11.7bn bond measure from Assemblywoman Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) and here for a $12.395 draft by State Senator David Cogdill (R-14th Senate District, Central Valley including San Joaquin County).

Caballero has been quoted in the Hollister Free Lance claiming that her bond provides resources for “every single watershed” in California.

So, even allowing for exaggeration, this is big, with a high price and even higher stakes. Articles from across the press on what is now feverish bill-making, many via the Water Education Foundation newsfeed Aquafornia, will be selectively linked as they appear.

Click here for the latest updates.

**Early versions of this article referred to sea level rising by 55 inches due to climate change by 2010.  It should have read 2100. Apologies for the typo and thanks to the reader to alerted me to it.


3 Responses to “$12bn water bill”

  1. jfleck at inkstain » Water News
    September 9th, 2009 @ 7:10 am

    […] trying to follow discussions over California’s pending water legislation. Emily Green has helpfully rounded it all up in one spot: “Potential cost? $12bn. Who will it affect? Every Californian who needs […]

  2. GeorgeJ
    September 9th, 2009 @ 8:56 pm

    I didn’t see the SacBee article you cited, but your link “sea level may rise 55 inches by 2010 due to climate change” was mistyped somewhere.

    Maybe 2100?

  3. EmilyGreen
    September 9th, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

    Indeed it was a typo and the correct date is 2100. Thank you!

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