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Water deal still up in the air with only hours left in legislative session

September 11, 2009 |  6:46 pm

With the close of the legislative session hours away, the fate of an ambitious set of water proposals remains up in the air.

Negotiations continued on a big bond and policy package put together by Democrats. As it now stands, one bill calls for nearly $12 billion in water-related financing, spread over two general obligation bonds that would be put before voters in 2010 and 2014. It would require two-thirds legislative approval.

A second bill, requiring majority legislative approval, would wrap together five policy proposals addressing a broad range of issues. They include urban water conservation, water rights and creation of a council dealing with the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, the hub of California’s waterworks.

“I don’t know if we’ll succeed tonight or not,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said this afternoon. “But if we don’t, we will have moved this issue to a place of when, not if.”

The package includes something for most of the state’s big water factions: Money for new surface and groundwater storage, a framework for easing the path to replumbing the troubled delta, ecosystem restoration in the delta and money for groundwater cleanup.

But Republicans don’t like some aspects of the bond proposal and are wary of opening the issue of water rights. Delta representatives complain the legislation has shoved aside delta interests. The association that represents most of the state’s urban water agencies objects to the conservation mandate as too heavy-handed.

“We have some major concerns about the proposal as it currently stands,” said Sabrina Lockhart, spokesperson for state Sen. Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto).
 
Steinberg said talks were continuing.

“We worked on it nonstop for two weeks,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, the Metropolitan Water District's general manager. “Now it’s something we can fully support.”

He added that the bond package has “a lot of good things in it for Southern California. “

The bond proposal includes a total of $3 billion for surface and groundwater storage, to be awarded competitively by a revived California Water Commission; $1 billion for delta projects such as levee improvements and flood control; $2 billion for delta ecosystem restoration; and $2 billion for watershed and ecosystem improvements around the state.

 It would also fund desalination, groundwater cleanup and water recycling, all programs that would help Southern California.


--Bettina Boxall in Sacramento


   

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