California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen and Sen Andy Vidak

California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen, left, and California State Sen. Andy Vidak at a press conference near Bakersfield as 60 acres of Valencia oranges were uprooted because the grower has no irrigation water to keep them alive.

California GOP senators float slimmer water bond

$11.14 billion bond poised to go on November ballot in California $8.7 billion bond seen as response to Governor's complaints Agriculture threatens to oppose any bond that does not have surface storage in it    

With all the talk of paring down a water bond proposal in California to meet recent the fiscal responsibility demands of Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Senate Republicans are floating a lighter water bond measure.

The $8.7 billion bond introduced by Republican Senators representing urban and agricultural districts is said to include key provisions that many in the state want – more water storage – while still providing money for drinking water issues, groundwater sustainability, climate change preparedness, Delta sustainability, flood management and water recycling.

The latest proposal is $2.44 billion lighter than the 2009 water bond measure, which is currently poised to go before voters in November as Proposition 43. While Prop. 43 addresses many of the concerns of a broad base of California interests, it has been publicly criticized by California Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr. as too expensive and “filled with pork.”

If approved for the state ballot in November, the new proposal would replace the current $11.14 billion bond that is ready to go.

In a recent letter to campaign donors, Gov. Brown was said to support a bond no greater than $6 billion. That pitch was seen as a “slap in the face” by some in agriculture.

Some in California agriculture fear that Gov. Brown will actively oppose Prop. 43 if it is left on the ballot, though one GOP staffer in Sacramento told Western Farm Press that would be “political suicide” for the Governor, who is up for re-election on the very same ballot, to attempt such a move during the worst drought in the state’s recorded history.

Group wants more

Earlier in the week a coalition that included a broad spectrum of interests, from agriculture to urban, took to the steps of Fresno City Hall to say they would not support anything less than a $9.8 billion measure that was said to be on the table for discussion in Sacramento.

The current proposal, called SB 1013, includes $3 billion for surface storage projects in California. There are currently about $7.35 billion worth of projects proposed in California right now, including Temperance Flat east of Fresno, raising Shasta Dam, Sites Reservoir in Colusa County, and raising Los Vaqueros Dam in Contra Costa County.

SB 1013 includes $1.5 billion for rivers and watershed protection, $1.25 billion to address climate change issues and $700 million for water recycling projects.

Legislative leaders in Sacramento pulled the 2009 water bond from the ballot before it could be voted on for “purely political reasons,” according to California Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber.

With each election cycle thereafter the Democratically-controlled leadership in Sacramento continued to push the bond off to the next election, claiming that it was too expensive and California did not need to spend money on the projects listed in the bond.

Then came California’s worst drought in recorded history.

State and federal water officials began warning agricultural users in early 2014 that surface water deliveries would be cut back to zero; state lawmakers then began scrambling to come up with a water bond that would pass muster with Gov. Brown. At one point there were said to be seven bond measures floating around the State Capital; none of them passed.

In January a $9.2 billion bond measure was introduced by State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, and Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres. That measure failed in spite of what proponents said was broad-based support.

“It had bipartisan support and addressed California’s needs but ultimately it did not pass,” Sen. Cannella said. “This Senate Republican bond is a fair compromise that should obtain bipartisan support as it meets California’s water needs.”

Citrus group happy

California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen praised the GOP efforts in Sacramento to move on this issue, warning that the bond focus must be need-based and not become mired in dollar figures that are being used for political purposes.

“A less-expensive bond proposal that does not meet the water needs of California only provides a solution on paper, but in actuality does nothing,” Nelsen said.

“The 2009 Water Bond was an exhaustively negotiated bipartisan, north, south, east, west visionary compromise among many competing priorities,” said Nielsen. “It represents the most significant water legislation since the State Water Project was authorized in 1951.”

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Nielsen continued: “For purely political reasons its placement on the ballot has been twice postponed. If no agreement is reached on an alternative bond, we are comfortable going forward with Proposition 43 and will actively campaign for it.”

“Proposition 43 would be an acceptable alternative to doing nothing,” said California Sen. Bob Huff. “Prop 43 has many things Democrats voted for and should still support.”

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