4 Nov 2009

California Water Legislation Moves Ahead

A few hours ago, the Legislature passed "a water package" that has two parts -- governance and money.

The first would:
  1. Create "a new seven-member board to oversee the Delta. The board would consist of gubernatorial and legislative appointees, along with the head of an already existing Delta commission. The board could approve a controversial peripheral canal to channel water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta."
  2. Reaffirm "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."
  3. Create "new regulations to monitor groundwater levels throughout the state."
  4. Invoke "increased penalties for illegal water diversions, though the penalties and enforcement were significantly weakened from the original plan."
The second "approves a $11.14 billion bond to pay for the overhaul. Three billion would be set aside for new water storage, which could be reservoirs, along with more than $2 billion for restoration of the Delta ecosystem. Other monies would pay for water recycling, drought relief, conservation and watershed protection projects, among other uses. The bond requires voter approval."

We know that (1) will not work without the power to enforce its rulings, and that Council appears to NOT have that power.

(2) is old news; ag water use will not fall unless farmers can get paid for conservation ("best practices" will have to pass cost-benefit tests and there's no benefit if they cannot sell water).

(3) sounds good! Statewide monitoring -- and public reporting -- is a good start!

(4) is also good. SWRCB currently does nothing about penalties.

The bond has $3 billion for dams, which will be $3 billion into the toilet EXCEPT that cost-sharing (those dams will cost more than $3 billion) will probably require farmers to pay, and they won't, so nothing will happen.

Even more likely is that the voters will just vote against the bond. Stay tuned.

Bottom Line: I consider this progress, but very imperfect, and not even close to where we need to be in California. I think that (3) and (4) are the most useful things here. (1) may be a sad failure -- back to square one -- unless they get STRONG powers.