CA Senate President Pro Tem tells water conference $11 billion is too much
“There are two subjects water people least want to talk about: politics and money,” said the former head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, David Nahai. He was speaking at the “Future of Water in Southern California” conference on a dry and windy Friday, here in the City of Angels. And those two were the uncomfortable topics State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) talked about in his lunch hour keynote.
[module align=”left’ width=”half” type=”pull-quote”]”Everybody asks ‘what’s gonna happen with the bond?’ I don’t know,” Steinberg countered, to modest chuckles.[/module]
Sponsored by UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, the conference was generously sprinkled with Southland water and sanitation district staff. They’d just spent the morning presenting new ideas for water “banking,” and new technologies for advanced recycling, and Steinberg knew the idea of less money would not wash down well with the noontime pasta salad and sandwiches. In fact, a proposal to cut 25% from each project in the water bond measure even failed an Assembly committee vote on Jan. 10th.
View KQED: California’s Water Bond – Where Would the Money Go? in a larger map
The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) is already on record as opposing any reduction, calling the cut “premature” in Capitol testimony earlier this month. In an Op-Ed piece for the Sacramento Bee, ACWA chief Timothy Quinn — also a former head of the Southern California Metropolitan Water District — brandished a Field survey it commissioned in which 84% of voters agreed, “the state has major water problems and must invest in its water infrastructure to ensure reliable water now and in future years.” And 64% said “investing billions of dollars in a state bond package (such as the one on the November ballot) would be worth it to ensure reliable water supplies.”
Steinberg conceded that most think the bond is “too large,” and critics say it’s overladen with pork. “I can accept that but one person’s pork is another person’s regional water solution,” Steinberg told the gathering. “We’re not going to be able to sell an $11 billion bond to voters during a very precarious period of economic recovery.” The alternative numbers he gently lobbed were in the range of seven-to-ten billion dollars.
A nationwide poll, “The Value of Water,” by hydro technology firm Xylem, Inc., showed — as of 18 months ago — water users were up for spending 11% more a month to upgrade their water systems. But the Natural Resources Defense Council had postprandial admonitions about the need to get truly creative with water system financing. NRDC’s David Beckman pointed to the group’s Center for Market Innovation, which is working to create large-scale private sector financing for energy efficiency projects.
In closing, Steinberg floated a compromise: “The choice may be do it our way and risk getting nothing or do the best we can — albeit with a smaller bond.”