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Schwarzenegger signs part of water package

One of the bills establishes a statewide program to measure groundwater elevations. The other adds 25 state enforcement officers to track down illegal water diversions.

November 07, 2009|Bettina Boxall

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger went to a scruffy field in the San Fernando Valley on Friday to sign two pieces of water legislation passed earlier this week.

The setting was the Tujunga well field of the San Fernando Valley aquifer, part of Los Angeles' water supply.

One of the bills the governor signed establishes a statewide program to measure groundwater elevations. The other adds 25 state enforcement officers to track down illegal water diversions.

Schwarzenegger is expected to sign the remaining parts of the water package in the coming days, including an $11.1-billion bond that will go before voters a year from now.

Surrounded by state lawmakers and local officials, he informally launched the bond campaign.

"We want to invest in the future of California, and this is the best investment we can make," Schwarzenegger said. "It's very important to vote 'yes.' "

The gathering was all smiles as legislators basked in their success at finally reaching a water accord that has eluded them for years.

The package was passed at the end of a 22-hour session, "when we lost track of which day it was," said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles).

"This is just the first step," she added, echoing Schwarzenegger's call to work for the bond's passage.

The groundwater measure ends California's distinction as the only Western state that doesn't monitor or regulate groundwater, which during droughts can make up as much as 40% of the state's supply.

Pumping is so heavy in some parts of the state that the land surface has subsided by more than 50 feet.

The enforcement bill was much stronger in its earlier forms. It called for increased penalties for illegal water diversions and gave the state water board more clout to stop them. But those provisions proved politically explosive and were dropped.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), one of the lead negotiators on the package, said legislation will be introduced again next year to raise penalties.

"We will finish the job," he said.

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bettina.boxall@latimes.com

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