Wednesday produced a series of water policy revelations, including a slimmed-down state water bond proposal that would raise $6.895 billion to fund a wide array of water quality and water supply projects; the news that Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislative leaders have proposed a $687 million package of measures to alleviate drought impacts across California; and last week’s announcement by President Obama, during a brief Central Valley visit designed, no doubt, to counter the January stop-over by Rep. John Boehner, that he will be delivering some $160 million in federal assistance.
Inevitably, drought actions at almost every level of government are weighted with political consequences, further complicating a politically entangled decision-making process.
But politics side, there was much to examine and ponder from the week’s water news, not the least of which was Senate Bill 848, the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality & Water Supply Act, artfully sculpted in sweeping terms by our own Third District Senator Lois Wolk, D-Davis.
Wolk has been bold in her rejection of Gov. Brown’s twin-tunnel water conveyance plan that would pipe Sacramento River water around the Delta for delivery to Southern California growers and suburbs. The latest twin-tunnel price tag has been estimated at $40 billion, and nowhere is there evidence that targeted users would or could pay for it.
But voters seem similarly reluctant to pay for the $11.14 billion water bond act that has been taking up cupboard space since it was withdrawn by legislators from a state ballot some three years ago for fear the public wouldn’t buy it. It is now scheduled for the November election, even though no one in Sacramento seems confident it can pass.
Which is why Wolk’s bill is a little more than half as expensive. SB 848 is being touted as a measure to “provide funding to immediately address the crisis in the Delta, provide water treatment for communities without safe water, increase flood safety and secure water supply reliability throughout California.”
That’s a tall order and probably impossibly ambitious – especially for the price – but it’s the first water bond bill from either house to make it out of committee, and it seems more reasonable in scope than anything else on the table.
Wolk’s bill would commit $900 million to safe drinking water or water quality projects, $2 billion to water supply “enhancement projects,” $1.2 billion for Delta restoration and levee improvements, $1.7 billion for watershed and ecosystem improvements, and $1.025 billion for water storage projects – including groundwater storage, conjunctive use and expansion of existing reservoir capacity by removing siltation.
Given that a year ago the EPA estimated it would take $44.5 billion in infrastructure improvements to ensure “safe and adequate” drinking water supplies for the state, Wolk’s bill seems modest at best. But it also seems realistic.
The more we study California’s water crisis, the more it seems clear there is no magic pill we can swallow to make it all better. We are suffering from the multiple consequences of unfunded infrastructure, bad long-term policy planning, unfounded faith in engineering solutions for every supply problem and the brooding specter of climate change.