August 14, 2008

Feinstein Presses for Water Bond

By Samantha Young

The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday pressed California lawmakers to set aside ideological differences and put a water measure on the November ballot, saying upgrading the state's aging water system is an urgent priority.

California's senior senator told Sacramento business leaders that it was critical for members of her own party to drop their long- standing opposition to new dams.

A $9.3 billion water bond she negotiated with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger includes some money for dams and underground storage, as well as billions to clean up contaminated groundwater and improve conservation.

A population that is headed toward 40 million and threats to the Sierra snowpack from global warming should be pushing California's water problems to the front of lawmakers' agenda, Feinstein said.

"The time is now," she said. "If you wait, it will be too late to do what we need to do to get up and running to meet this hotter, drier future that is coming."

There is consensus among farmers, environmentalists and urban water agencies that California's half century-old system of reservoirs, pumps and canals can't meet the state's future needs as it is operated now.

In addition, the levees, water quality and native species are deteriorating in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the heart of the state's intricate water-supply system.

Many of the state's reservoirs are less than half full, the result of two dry years and a federal judge's order that cut water deliveries out of the delta to protect a threatened fish.

As a result, state and federal contractors are getting just 35 percent of their deliveries this year. Several water agencies throughout the state have imposed conservation measures or are considering them if California endures another dry winter.

Feinstein and Schwarzenegger announced their $9.3 billion bond proposal in July, but it has failed to move forward in the Legislature. It sets aside about a third of the money for reservoirs and other storage projects.

Republicans and Democrats remain at odds over dams and whether to build a canal to pipe river water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta - two strategies being considered to improve water supplies and restore the delta.

Negotiations on the overdue state budget have dominated the agendas of legislative leaders since July, leaving them little time to concentrate on the ballot proposal for water.

Farmers, irrigation districts or any other entity that would benefit from a new dam would pay at least half the cost, but Democrats question whether the state should foot the bill for the rest. The reservoir sites would be chosen by a commission appointed by the governor with little legislative oversight.

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