Calif. lawmakers make progress toward water deal
By SAMANTHA YOUNG
Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Lawmakers moved closer Tuesday in their effort to alleviate California’s water woes but passage of a comprehensive fix was far from assured.
The challenge to overhaul the state’s decades old-water system has tormented lawmakers for years as California’s population has grown and environmental conditions have worsened.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday it would be “a historic accomplishment” if the Legislature sent him a solution to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and create a stable supply of water for cities in Southern California and farmers in the Central Valley.
Democrats and Republicans have spent months hashing out a package of bills intended to change how water is used in California and manage the delta, the estuary that funnels fresh water from the north to the south where most people live.
At the center of the package is a bond that has grown in the past two days to nearly $11 billion to pay for new dams, groundwater cleanup, conservation and habitat restoration. The addition of the last billion dollars came late Tuesday by the Assembly, which wanted more money for water recycling and conservation.
“I really do sense that members see this as a very historic moment for the state,” Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said before the Assembly began debate Tuesday evening.
State senators bolstered private property rights protections to win the approval of a new groundwater monitoring system. That left all but one bill awaiting Senate approval – a measure that would increase penalties for illegal water diversions.
The Assembly recessed Tuesday after passing only one of six bills. It was unclear whether Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, could get the needed votes for the bond, as well as reforms proposed for the delta. A groundwater monitoring bill failed to pass in the Assembly on an initial vote, although Bass told reporters she was confident she had the votes for it and the rest of the package.
“We are comfortable and confident we will wrap up and we will have the votes,” Bass said. “We want to finish this tonight.”
As part of a solution, lawmakers have proposed creating a seven-member council that would govern the delta’s ecosystem and water supplies.
Lawmakers who represent the delta vowed to oppose the water package unless their region was given a bigger voice on the council. Their biggest fear is that an entity dominated by non-delta residents would allow the construction of a controversial canal that would send water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.