Government worked; water bond essential for California's future

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Water – it’s easy to take it for granted. We use it to make our cup of coffee, shower, water our lawns and, of course, drink.

Our state depends on water for its economy, with our agricultural communities creating thousands of jobs for friends and neighbors, creating billions of dollars in revenues and producing food resources not only for California, but for the world.

Bottom line: We expect and need water to be available at all times, and when we don’t have it, we realize that we really do depend on it.

In the midst of the worst drought in California history – with few signs of relief – if we don’t act immediately, we will learn a very hard lesson about how much we depend on water.

Last week, the Legislature and governor together crafted a new $7.5 billion water bond for the November ballot. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and had only two “no” votes in the Assembly. It’s rare that we can all agree on an issue so controversial.

This new bond was a long time coming. In March, I joined the Senate working group to renegotiate the $11.1 billion bond developed in 2009. It was a bond that everyone had come to hate. It had billions in pork projects and the media had turned against it. The Assembly also had proposals, but neither side was able to come to an agreement.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Jerry Brown weighed in with a $6 billion bond. As a fiscally responsible legislator, I understood the governor’s apprehension over the larger bond. On the other hand, I also knew the devastating consequences if we did not invest in the future. His proposal was a non-starter because it contained only $2 billion for new storage. With already record-low reservoir levels, we absolutely need to concentrate on creating reservoirs, like Temperance Flat and Sites reservoirs.

The important part, though, was that all parties were engaged in crafting a new water bond that recognized the need for storage, Delta restoration and clean water.

Because we held firm, we were able to get $2.7 billion for new storage – a piece of the water puzzle that is absolutely essential to not only rebuilding our archaic water system built 50 years ago, but ensuring we continue to receive this increasingly precious resource now and for years to come. This bond retains 90 percent of the funding for storage that was contained in the 2009 bond. Storage was just 27 percent of the original $11.1 billion bond. Because of cuts to other areas, it is now 36 percent. This bond’s allocation will allow us to build new infrastructure for the future.

We have kept the necessary funding to bring more water into our water system through surface storage, groundwater sustainability and clean water. There is $725 million for recycling and $200 million for stormwater capture. There is $520 million to clean our drinking water and $750 million to prevent and reduce groundwater contamination.

For our region, this is crucial. We have seen subsidence in the Central Valley. In the Salinas Valley, we are battling saltwater intrusion. In both regions, entire communities cannot drink water from their taps. For the richest state in the richest country in the world, this is unacceptable.

This bond also eliminates the pork that did not provide additional water and would have made it harder to persuade voters to pass the bond. If we had kept the original bond, we would have missed a window to do what is right for the entire state. I can honestly say this is the toughest issue I have faced since joining the Senate.

This victory shows how government should run. The 2009 bond barely made it through the Legislature and was cobbled together in middle-of-the-night negotiations. This new bond had overwhelming bipartisan support. We all represented our constituents but also voted to prepare California for the future. I am proud of the work done to create this new bond, and hopefully, Californians understand the importance of this bond and will pass it in November.

Also published at the Merced Sun-Star