The leader of a Southern California coalition of businesses, local governments and water agencies on Wednesday charged Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley with "inciting water wars" by further politicizing the state's longstanding north-south water rivalry as part of his expected bid for governor.
Orange County Supervisor Harriett Wieder, chairwoman of the nonpartisan Southern California Water Committee Inc., criticized Bradley's call last week for a major expansion of Southern California water conservation efforts and storage capacity.
At a Los Angeles press conference, Wieder said she was not quarreling so much with what Bradley proposed--she said much of it is already being done or planned--as with his "making this a potential issue" in the governor's race and one that she claimed will pit Northern and Southern Californians, as well as Democrats and Republicans, against each other.
"He is allowing himself to be a part of the problem, rather than part of the solution," she said.
Bradley's proposal has been applauded by Northern California opponents of enlarging the California Water Project, which carries water from the north to the south end of the state.
Wieder, a Republican, said she was surprised by Democrat Bradley's "sudden interest" in the water issue, saying he has not chosen to participate in the committee's efforts to educate the public and Northern California elected officials about Southern California's water needs.
The committee includes some of Southern California's major builders and businesses, as well eight Southland counties and numerous water companies, including the Metropolitan Water District. It is trying to develop a consensus with Northern California officials on how to move more water south without causing environmental problems in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, she said.
Last week, Bradley, in a major political initiative as part of his expected gubernatorial campaign, outlined a proposed state water management plan designed to gain him support in both the water-hungry south and the water-rich north. He called for a greater emphasis on Southern California conservation, including higher summer water rates to discourage use in dry periods, and a variety of measures to increase the south's water storage capacity during wet periods.
Bradley said the plan, which also calls for postponing construction of controversial water storage facilities in the Sacramento Delta area, could yield Southern California an additional 1 million to 1.3 million acre-feet of water a year, without taking more water from the north.
A delta storage expansion plan offered by Republican Gov. George Deukmejian was defeated in the Legislature last year. Bradley is expected to challenge Deukmejian, who has been criticized on the water issue by some of the Northern California environmental groups that have endorsed Bradley's proposal.
Ventura County Supervisor John K. Flynn, who appeared with Wieder, said he is concerned because Bradley emphasized water conservation so heavily that he "could be misleading people." Flynn, a Democrat who has supported Bradley in the past, said that conservation is "not going solve all our problems" and that provisions must be made to move more water south--particularly given the planned cutback over the next five years in Southern California's share of Colorado River water.
A Bradley spokeswoman said the mayor offered his proposal "as a discussion piece" and anticipates discussions with Wieder's organization and others.
Although Wieder's committee may be working on the water issue, "no one has a monopoly" on it, said Ali Webb, Bradley's press aide.
"We're trying to forge a consensus," she said.
Webb acknowledged that many elements of Bradley's proposal have been discussed before.