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Historic water bill paves way for new infrastructure
Voters to decide on $11.1 billion bond
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Water Bill Highlights
• An $11.1 billion bond for new dams, groundwater storage and cleanup, conservation, and regional water projects. Must be approved by voters in November, 2010.
• A 20 percent in per capita water usage by 2020. Does not apply to ag uses, which instead are subject to "best practices."
• A crackdown on illegal water users.
• A new commission dedicated to Delta issues.
• Statewide monitoring of groundwater stores.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law what he termed a “historic package to reform and rebuild California’s water system” on Friday.
“Water is the lifeblood of everything we do in California,” Schwarzenegger said. “Without clean, reliable water, we cannot build, we cannot farm, we cannot grow and we cannot prosper. That is why I am so proud that the legislature, Democrats and Republicans, came together and tackled one of the most complicated issues in our state’s history. This comprehensive water package is a historic achievement.”
The five bill legislative package, drafted as a result of Schwarzenegger’s Oct. 11 proclamation for an extraordinary session of the legislature to address California’s water crisis, calls for sweeping changes to the state water system, including a 20 percent reduction in per capita water consumption by the year 2020. Cities that already have water conservation efforts in place will receive credits toward meeting the new requirements.
The 20 percent reduction does not affect agricultural usage, which comprises 80 percent of California’s water use. Ag is instead subject to a “best practices” conservation requirement.
Schwarzenegger drew comparisons between the water conservation requirement and past energy efficiency legislation, which has led to decreasing per capita energy usage over the past 30 years.
Groundwater will be tracked around the state for the first time to better understand how the state uses water. California was the only state in the Western United States that did not regulate groundwater usage.
An $11.1 billion bond — which must be approved by voters in November 2010 — would be leveraged with local and federal funds into $40 billion worth of new dams, belowground and aboveground water storage and various regional water projects. Conservation and recycling projects, tainted water cleanup, and San Joaquin-Sacramento delta restoration would also be funded by bond proceeds.
“These landmark bills lay the framework for a 21st Century water policy in California, by establishing a State policy of reducing reliance on the Delta and investing in alternative water supply solutions, including water recycling, groundwater banking, conservation, and low impact development,” said Barry Nelson, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This bill shows remarkable agreement that these tools, rather than pumping more water from the Delta, are the cornerstone strategies for ensuring adequate water for all Californians.”
Concerns regarding the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which provides agricultural water for much of Northern California and drinking water for millions of Southern Californians, led to the creation of an appointed seven-member board focused on the estuary. They will be tasked with creating a management plan by 2012, which could include the oft-discussed Peripheral Canal to carry drinking water south.
The legislation also calls for an end to illegal water diversions, with 25 new inspectors dedicated to tracking down unlawful users. New fines will be doled out to those caught.
“Now, to put this in context, it’s estimated that around 1,800 in-Delta farmers take up to 8 percent of fresh water flows from the Delta,” said Assemblymember Kevin De Leon (D-45). “That’s about 2 million acre-feet … 650 billion gallons of water a year. Not million gallons but 650 billion gallons a year. The bottom line is no one knows how much water is being illegally diverted from that fragile watershed; it could be millions of gallons, it could be billions of gallons.”
Officials with the Turlock Irrigation District are not yet certain how the massive piece of legislature will affect local water rights and usage.
“We are poring through it right now,” said Steve Boyd, assistant general manager of TID Consumer Services.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.