September 5, 2008

California Plans Water Bank In Midst Of Drought

California leaders are hoping the construction of a "water bank" to buy water for potential shortages next year, could help the state if a current drought persists, according to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In June, Schwarzenegger said the state was officially in the middle of a dire drought.

The governor even declared nine counties in its farm-rich Central Valley to be in a state of emergency due to low amounts of water supplies.

Also causing water shortages is a federal court order to limit pumping water from the state's San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta to protect a species of fish.

State officials say California's 2009 Drought Water Bank will buy water from local water agencies and farmers upstream of the delta. They will then sell it to public and private water systems that are worried supplies could run short.

California set up a water bank in the early 1990s. The statewide drought coordinator for the agency, Wendy Martin, said the agency plans stricter guidelines this time around.

"We will be paying closer attention to ... making sure water is being used for the greatest and highest public service. We're not going to let people take water and use it for frivolous reasons," said Martin.

The state will force agencies buying water through the bank to commit to a 20 percent reduction in overall water use.

Schwarzenegger urged lawmakers to approve a bond bill for financing an expansion of the state's water storage and delivery infrastructure.

"California's drought is impacting our economy, our agriculture and our families, and an end to these dry conditions is nowhere in sight," he said.

"While we are taking action to address the state's drought situation, there remains an urgent need for Californians to step up conservation efforts and for the legislature to pass a comprehensive water plan that will ensure California has the water it needs to keep our economy strong and our people working," Schwarzenegger added.

The Republican governor says he will not sign any bills, until the Democrat-led legislature creates a state budget. The budget is now two months overdue.
Spokeswoman Lisa Page says he will make an exception for legislation approving state debt for water infrastructure.
Schwarzenegger and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, are backing a plan to allocate $9.3 billion to address the delta's environmental problems as well as, expanding the state's water works.

Lawmakers have sidelined the measure as the legislature haggles over a state budget.

"Right now the No. 1 priority is passing a responsible budget. No talks are taking place on water," said Alicia Trost, a spokeswoman for Senate President pro Tem Don Perata.