California’s water storage proponents may have won a key bipartisan battle in the California legislature, but they must still clear their multi-billion bond effort with voters in November if $7.5 billion is to start flowing to important water projects.
While two-thirds of the total bond measure called Proposition 1 is destined for regional water reliability, safe drinking water, watershed protection, legal obligations related to the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, recycling and groundwater sustainability, the $2.7 billion for above-ground storage is the center pivot to California’s broken water infrastructure.
“Without water (storage) we can’t recycle or recharge,” said Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Visalia. “To me storage was the most important piece of this bond.”
At the front of the line for at least some of the storage money is Temperance Flat Dam, which saw its draft environmental impact statement released last week for public review.
Temperance Flat will effectively triple the storage in Millerton Lake, a facility on the San Joaquin River above Fresno, according to Mario Santoyo, executive director of the Latino Water Coalition. This is critical to some San Joaquin Valley (SJV) farmers because Millerton’s water is used to meet urban water needs and irrigate farms from Chowchilla to Bakersfield.
Millerton Lake was created when construction on Friant Dam was completed in 1942. Current lake capacity is 520,500 acre feet.
Two other projects
Also said to be in line for their share of the $2.7 billion in water storage funding is Sites Reservoir and Los Vaqueros. Both are off-stream storage sites located north of the Delta.
Los Vaqueros is a Department of Water Resources facility that officials seek to expand by 275,000 acre feet. According to the California Department of Water Resources, the expansion will allow California to take advantage of existing state-of-the-art fish screens used in the Delta to protect Delta Smelt, Longfin Smelt and other species from the effects of Delta pumping activities.
Sites Reservoir in Colusa County would be a completely new facility, adding 1.9 million acre-feet of off-stream storage in western Colusa County.
Representatives from both sides of California’s ideological divide praised each other and the various groups that participated in recent discussions in Sacramento to get Proposition 1 passed in the closing days of the legislative session.
Important to bond proponents was crafting language that Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr. could support going into the election season. Legislators assure the public that the governor is on board with the measure.
“This was a true coming together in a real bipartisan nature,” said Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno.
Perea praised a broader coalition of Central Valley and Central Coast political leaders to pass the bond, which has money in it for a cross-section of interests, from storage proponents to environmental groups.
While it was the $520 million for safe drinking water and $725 million for water recycling programs that drew in support from lawmakers such as Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas because of contaminated water issues in the Salinas Valley, Alejo said it was a trip to the SJV that turned him on to the idea of water storage.
Water and jobs
During a tour of SJV farming operations Alejo said he visited with a lettuce harvesting crew in Kings County. Farmworkers there told Alejo that they would be working only three weeks this year instead of the usual three months on lettuce harvest because the SJV farmers that employ their crews had no surface water to grow crops this year.
“To me that was an eye-opener that this is an issue for families from all over the state,” Alejo said.
The water bond also drew in support from the carpenters union in Sacramento.
Daniel Curtain, Director of the California State Conference of Carpenters says he recognizes not just the jobs infrastructure projects will create throughout California, but the benefits ample and sustainable supplies of water has to a vibrant economy.
“We’re looking forward to the jobs that come from building this infrastructure, but that’s not the heart of the matter from where I sit,” Curtain said. “Without a water infrastructure system that can provide water to the communities in California we will go into a further depression.”
According to Santoyo, the water bond fight began during Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s term after former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry was successful in attracting Schwarzenegger’s attention to the issue of more water storage for California.
“I never thought this day would come that we’d have a compromise like this,” Autry said.
The current bond replaced an $11.1 billion bond that Gov. Schwarzenegger approved for the ballot in 2009 but was never allowed by political leaders in Sacramento to go before the voters.
According to Autry, two of the earlier bond proponents – former Sen. David Cogdill, R-Modesto, and former Assemblyman Mike Villines, R-Fresno – lost their political careers over the earlier bond “due to partisan bullets, many of which were fired by their own parties because they embraced the bipartisan efforts that led to what we have today.”
Conway said the unanimous support in the state Senate and near-unanimous support of the bond measure in the Assembly happened because of the “hard work for a whole lot of years that went into this process.”
“I had more Democrats in my office for a while on this bill because they saw how important it was that we get this work done,” Conway said.