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A better water bill

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For the past year – and beyond – public dialogue in the Delta has been drowning in a flood of competing claims, studies, plans, proposals and promises for resolving California’s increasingly desperate water problems, with much of the hope hinging on a horrendously expensive, scientifically suspect document called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, or just BDCP.

The BDCP isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, questionable proposal to rescue the state from terminal thirst. But in terms of absolute dollars, and relative risk, it may be the most expensive.

At the core of the proposal are the now infamous twin, 30-mile long, 40-feet wide tunnels that would carry 3,000 acre feet per second of Sacramento and American River water around the Delta and down to pumping stations near Tracy, for shipment to Southern California almond and pistachio growers, among other “crucial” water consumers.

That part of the BDCP will cost about $16 billion, including operation and maintenance, and no one is yet clear who will pay for it.

Meanwhile, the science behind the tunnel is open to dispute and a wide range of critics insist that not nearly enough is known about the consequences of completely plumbing the largest and most ecologically-important estuary on the West Coast of the Western Hemisphere.

Fortunately, there is now an intelligent alternative. Thanks to 3rd District State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-davis, who represents Sonoma in Sacramento, a new water bill – SB 848 – has been introduced and is rapidly gaining political support.

The new bill was crafted to include investments to enhance water supply reliability in every region of the state. It provides $10.5 billion in funding for water projects and environmental restoration, including:

• $500 million for urgent drinking water treatment for communities that don’t currently have access to safe water;

• $1 billion for critically needed groundwater treatment projects;

• $400 million for wastewater treatment to protect rivers, streams and beaches;

• $900 million for community-supported habitat restoration in the Delta;

• $400 million for Delta levee stability funding to reduce the risk of levee failure from floods, earthquakes and sea-level rise;

• $1.9 billion for drought response and regional water supply development, including water recycling, desalination, and water conservation;

• $3 billion for additional surface and groundwater storage;

• $500 million for storm water reuse and capture;

• $925 million for watershed restoration throughout California.

Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and legislators from Northern and Southern California, in both houses of the Legislature have announced support for the legislation.

Steinberg described the bill well when he said, “As California’s antiquated water infrastructure struggles to weather the driest year on record, each passing month makes clear the urgency to equip our state’s water systems for the demands of the 21st Century. Sen. Wolk’s proposal deftly navigates the elusive middle ground of California’s historical geographic and ideological differences over water policy, and meets the co-equal goals of enhancing our water supply while protecting the integrity of the system’s lynchpin of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This is a well-balanced proposal to benefit the entire state.”

Steinberg is right. It’s not the final solution, but it’s a good start.

– David Bolling