With the budget passed and the Legislature preparing to turn its attention to restructuring a new water bond, Anthony Rendon, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife, presented proposed Principles for Developing a Water Bond to Assembly members and the public at the July 2nd committee hearing.
The new principles include setting priorities for water bond financing, retaining provisions which prohibit use of water bond funds for construction or mitigation of new Delta water conveyance facilities, respecting existing water rights and area-of-origin protections, and, perhaps most importantly, prohibiting earmarks and instead establishing competitive processes for water bond funding.
The current proposed $11.14 billion water bond, slated for the ballot in November of 2014, includes funding for drought relief, integrated regional water management, the Delta, watershed protection, groundwater cleanup and water recycling. The water bond was scheduled to go before the voters in the fall of 2010, but after polling showed insufficient voter support, the Legislature postponed the bond measure to November of 2012. When voter polls last year still showed lagging support among voters, the bond was postponed yet again to November of 2014, but it was widely recognized that the water bond would need to be restructured.
In order to pass, any new water bond must gain the support of 2/3rds of the Legislature as well as a majority of the voters.
Earlier this year, Senate committees held hearings on issues related to the water bond; currently there are two water bond bills remaining in the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee (SB40/Pavley and SB42/Wolk).
In May, Assembly Speaker John Perez appointed a working group in the Democratic caucus to brief colleagues on the water bond and water issues. Drawing on those briefings and discussions, the working group then began discussing principles for developing a water bond, including identifying priorities and accountability measures. The principles raise issues for further consideration and are intended to start a statewide discussion about the future of California water and how Californians will finance the water infrastructure they need. “The Principles are the beginning of the discussion, not the conclusion,” state the background documents.
CHAIR ANTHONY RENDON: PRINCIPLES FOR DEVELOPING A WATER BOND
Chair Anthony Rendon began by stating that in preparation for the upcoming water bond discussions, Assembly members have been organizing briefings on California water policy and water bond funding for their colleagues, and from that a working group was formed to develop a set of principles for how the Legislature might proceed on developing a water bond.
These principles are before you today, said Mr. Rendon: “I encourage all of you from both caucuses to share them with others, including the constituents who care about water in your own districts. I encourage you to especially do so during the upcoming summer break.”
“These principles focus on the big picture, on the funding that Californians will need to build their water future. They do not look back to what happened before with previous bond negotiations; instead they propose how we move forward, and that’s the critical point of these principles. Focusing on the big picture, and moving toward the future,” Mr. Rendon said.
“We all next to step back and look at the needs for all Californians and what voters will support. If we leave the current bond on the 2014 ballot, it will fail to gain voter approval, and when I say all, I mean both legislators and stakeholders,” he said.
These principles reflect a process that is fundamentally different, said Mr. Rendon. “We plan on working in a collaborative process with all who care about California’s water future. We will engage everyone in government and in the public. We are going to step back and look toward the future at what Californians need.”
The principles offer priorities for state investments, such as the Delta, regional self reliance, and safe drinking water, especially for disadvantaged communities, said Mr. Rendon. Healthy watersheds, water conservation and reuse, and water storage, both above and below, as well as cleaning up aquifers to make storage available in our regions.
“Another key area is balancing between existing and new infrastructure,” said Mr. Rendon. “Making sure to take care of Californians and their water infrastructure today, but also building toward tomorrow.”
Regional self reliance will be a critical part of our future, he said, pointing out how Southern California has added 1 million residents yet continues to use the same amount of water. “This is because of a lot of our conservation efforts, a lot of the things that individual citizens and individual residents have done in Los Angeles, but also measures that water districts and water boards have taken. These are important accomplishments, these are breakthrough accomplishments, and have really changed the water equation and the way we think about water in this state, but there are many more things that we could do,” said Mr. Rendon. “The County of Los Angeles has talked about stormwater runoff and recharge and all sorts of other things we should look towards in terms of regional self-reliance, and these are items that the discussion around the water bond should look at as well.”
“We have built a statewide water system where regions rely on one another. It is the most sophisticated water system in the world, and we can’t afford to lose our investments in the system, but that system, quite frankly, is built out, and at this point we need to take of that system,” said Mr. Rendon. “For the future, we need to look carefully at how we manage water in our own backyard. The legislature set a policy on investing in regional self reliance as part of the 2009 Delta water legislation. We need to maintain that focus and continue to ask fundamental questions like how do we use and reuse water in our regions? How do we manage the watersheds where we live? How do we manage our stormwater supply? How do we manage our groundwater aquifers for storage and supply? These are the questions that we will need to answer in the years ahead, and consistent with the 2009 statute we need to invest in that future in greater self reliance.”
The principles address accountability to assure the voters that we, the legislature, are watching the fiscal bottom line and doing what’s best for the state as a whole, said Mr. Rendon. “The first principle in the accountability category is the most important, and probably the most challenging contrast from what happened last time, and that is the prohibition on earmarks,” he said. “This is the signal that we are going to do this water bond significantly differently than the previous water bond was done, and differently than how a lot of other bonds have occurred in the past. We are going to consider the needs of the region and the state as a whole.”
“This water bond will also include performance indicators and will focus on regional needs and regional decisions. Beneficiaries pay for their benefits, and the public pays for public benefits. We are going to consider all of California’s needs for infrastructure financing in crafting a reasonable amount of bond funding for water infrastructure.”
“Finally, we propose this next bond adopt assurances to all Californians that we will respect existing water rights, including area of origin protections and retain the policy that this bond will not fund construction or mitigation of new water conveyance facilities in the Delta.”
Mr. Rendon then closed with inviting his colleagues and the public to offer their consideration, thoughts, and ideas on how to proceed, and urged his colleagues to share the principles with all who care about California’s water future.
PUBLIC COMMENT (SELECTED EXCERPTS)
Omar Carillo, Community Water Center, Policy Analyst, environmental and social justice organizations: “Previous water bonds since the 70s have created $18 billion to address some of the concerns and needs of Californians, and still there are hundreds of thousands of individuals that don’t have access to safe drinking water. Our focus is providing safe drinking water for the communities that continue to need safe drinking water, and lack the resources. … “
Kathy Cole, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California: “Metropolitan is very supportive obviously, of measures to protect the Delta, all in furtherance of the coequal goals that were established back in 2009. In 1-F, the discussion about storage options, I want to make sure that when it says groundwater clean up, it also means groundwater storage; the two can be certainly co-goals, but one does require storage to be in the mix. … We did support the language that’s in the existing bond about the prohibition of using bond funds for the new Delta conveyance construction and/or mitigation; we just want to make sure that those mitigation requirements are beyond any mitigation obligation of any party or interest, so it’s what’s required under the statute.”
Glen Farrell, San Diego County Water Authority: “The water bond is important to us, and is important to all regions of the state in order to ensure that there is adequate funding to continue these efforts to advance diversification of water supply portfolios. Thank you for putting out a very good starting point in terms of outlining water bond priorities that we can embrace that are meaningful and well thought out.”
Larry Ruhlstaller, member of Board of Supervisors of San Joaquin County, vice-chair of the Delta Protection Commission, and chairman of a flood control agency: “I am actually amazed that I’m in agreement with some of the main points that Metropolitan just made. I’m also very impressed with San Diego County Water Authority and what they’ve done. Northern California needs to follow suit with a lot of what’s been done in Southern California if we’re really going to reach a statewide water solution. So, contrary to what most people think, folks in the Delta don’t always say no, they do say that we’re prepared to work with you all to actually get somewhere on this issue.”
Todd Manley, Northern California Water Association: “We really do appreciate this fresh approach that the working group has taken developing these principles. We think you’re addressing some of the major concerns that need to be addressed in a water bond and we’re encouraged by that.”
Tom Zuckerman, Central Delta Water Agency: “I likewise appreciate this approach; it’s a breath of fresh air. I think it’s important to recognize that there’s a lot of good work that can be done in the interim while we’re arguing over larger projects. We would hope that the breadth of this measure is such that it recognizes the efforts that are going on amongst a broad spectrum of stakeholders to find near term projects that move the ball forward in the face of disputes that some of them have with one another. It would be important to have a secure source of funding to advance a number of those near-term projects, a lot of which are flood control projects in the Delta, some of them are habitat projects, some of them are educational projects and so forth. The importance of it is that a broad group of stakeholders have been working together to try and identify things that we have common agreements with, and we recognize that sufficient funding is not available from the current bond issues and it would be helpful to identify another source of funding for those efforts.”
LEGISLATOR COMMENTS (SELECTED EXCERPTS)
Assembly member Adam Gray: “There was a comment made about groundwater cleanup, the missing term groundwater storage; there are certainly are a lot of groundwater storage opportunities which are in conjunction ground water cleanup in my district and throughout the Central Valley, and I’d sure like to see groundwater storage included with that principle. … I would commend in 2-B, making water investment decision on a regional basis, I appreciate the inclusion of that, and support that. How we define that I think is an important question,” noting that he strongly supports principle #3, respecting existing water rights.
Assembly member Brian Dahle: “In my district, the watershed is above the dams which I represent, so I want to be focused on making sure that we do look at above the dams, county of origin rights … “
Assembly member Das Williams: “Looking at the principles, I am heartened to see an emphasis on conservation. We still have a lot more water that can be wrung out by conservation, and it’s the most cost-effective way to have more water supplies. … In the policies that we promote, we should not be frustrating the other large policies we have been trying to put forward in the state, and I will put a particular highlight on RPS, RPS and our energy goals as a state. There is great potential for water reuse, and I’m a big believer in water reuse, and even some potential in desal, and I’m definitely a big believer in using adjudicated basins for groundwater storage. But all three of those use a lot of energy to pump water, and when we are using state funds to facilitate that pumping, we should be willing to put expectations on that … pumping of water and even water reuse and desal does not have to be done during peak times during the day … some of those facilities are very easy to hookup to renewable sources, even intermittent renewable resources … “
Assembly member Paul Fong: Regarding the Delta, “I discovered that the Delta Stewardship Council, they did not have any of the Delta elected officials on that council, and they were the best stewards of the Delta, but they were not given a voice at the table. I think that was a big mistake not to have a voice from the Delta on the table in the Delta Stewardship Council, and so I would really advise to be inclusionary of the Delta elected officials in that process.”
Assembly member Mariko Yamada: “I am going to reserve the right on fully embracing it until we see further steps and further discussion. … Access to clean and safe drinking water is a laudable goal, but if it’s not affordable, than anything we do is moot. I know a number of us represent small rural communities … where the costs are not amortized over a large number of connections … people are being taxed out of their homes because they can’t pay for the water delivery. I am not sure whether this bond will attempt to address that issue but I think it’s really important to address those who are elderly, and those whose incomes are fixed, and also impoverished communities. … There’s no direct sense that I get from these principles that the legislature will continue to have oversight. … Without some legislative oversight or direct statement that the legislature would retain some oversight over this process, in order to establish or establish trust in this process, I think we would want to see that. … [Regarding principle 4, prohibiting funds for construction or mitigation of new water conveyance facilities] there can be enabling projects that can be part of this … enabling projects are just as important from the Delta perspective as any other project … “
Assembly member Raul Bocanegra: “Just recently, the large municipal utility to the south announced the world’s largest groundwater cleanup facility in my district, so I think there’s a lot of synergy happening right now. I think those of us in the southern part of the state know we need to do our best in terms of recycling and conservation, and are prepared to do so and are doing so at the local level. … It was very good to hear that all partners in the state are willing to come to the table … this is a tremendous opportunity for us and it’s an opportunity with a window that can close very quickly, so it would be a shame for us to dawdle too much. Of course we need to be thoughtful, we need to be deliberate in our steps, but there’s an opportunity here for us to take and to build upon the water infrastructure for the state of California, at least in my lifetime.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
For the proposed Principles for Developing a Water Bond, click here.
For background documents related to the water bond, click here.
To visit the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife’s water bond reference page, click here.
To view the hearing, check CalChannel’s video on demand page by clicking here.