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GOP seeks dams bond

If Republican legislators don't budge, Democrats who seek less costly alternatives may be unable to put a water measure on the ballot.

October 04, 2007|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO -- With California reservoirs low and a second dry winter sure to trigger rationing, Republican lawmakers demanded Wednesday that California's next water bond include new dams.

Like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican legislators insist that California needs to immediately begin the eight-to-15-year process of dam construction to supply millions of additional residents as global warming shrinks the all-important Sierra snowpack.

That puts the Republicans at odds with Democratic lawmakers, who say less grand projects can capture more water more cheaply. If Democrats don't budge in the coming weeks, the Legislature could fail to craft a water bond for the February ballot to fund projects that would stretch the state's water supplies, because Republican lawmakers said they would rather have no bond than one without new or expanded reservoirs.

"No surface storage, no deal," said Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines of Clovis at a Capitol news conference, surrounded by 10 other Assembly Republicans.

"The idea that we let millions of acre-feet of water every year run to the ocean, totally wasted, is insanity," he said.

Schwarzenegger and Republican lawmakers seek a $9-billion bond, $5 billion of which could be used to expand or build reservoirs in Glenn, Contra Costa and Madera counties. Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) proposes a $5.4-billion bond that will not mention specific reservoir projects but instead allow local water districts to compete for state money to offset some dam costs.

Lawmakers have yet to spend $10 billion that remains from previous water bonds passed by voters.

Both houses of the Legislature plan to hold water bond hearings today and Monday, and Perata has told senators to convene Tuesday for a possible vote.

Still, the two sides appear far from agreement.

"Drawing lines in the sand won't safeguard the supply of clean, safe drinking water that our homes, businesses and farms so urgently need," said Perata in a prepared statement. "Our proposal encourages water conservation, while including both surface and groundwater storage."

Assemblyman John Laird, the Santa Cruz Democrat who is leading water bond negotiations in the Assembly, said the key question about dams is who pays. He called the governor's proposal "a record level of public financing."

"The most the state has ever contributed for the cost of a dam is 3%," he said, "and the governor is proposing 50% each for three dams."

The legislative debate comes as the state's biggest reservoirs are 30% or more below normal levels.

The last 12 months were the driest on record in Southern California, but brimming reservoirs in Northern California allowed most residents to pay no mind.

Those water reserves are gone now, state Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow said.

The vagaries of global warming mean that this winter could be the second of a 10-year drought or could bring disastrous floods, he said. And if it is another dry year, Snow said, Southern California water districts may be unable to rely on buying water from Sacramento Valley farmers as they have in previous droughts.

Sales could happen, but delivery of the water might not, because a federal judge seeking to protect endangered fish recently curtailed pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the hub where water gets pumped into southbound canals before it can drain to the ocean.

"There's a new dimension to it this year," Snow said.

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