One of several water bond proposals competing for a spot on the state’s November ballot has passed its first legislative test, winning approval from the state Senate’s Natural Resources and Water Committee.
The measure, SB848 by Sen. Lois Wolk, a Democrat from Davis, would raise $6.9 billion for new water storage, water treatment for communities with unsafe drinking water and environmental projects focused on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Wolk’s measure is supported by boards of supervisors in Contra Costa, Sonoma, Solano, Yolo and Sacramento counties and a heavyweight list of environmental and conservation groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club California, Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy.
Wolk has offered her bill as a cheaper and more focused alternative to an $11.14 billion bond bill the Legislature passed in 2009. That measure would have set aside $3 billion for the Legislature to spend on major infrastructure while designating most of its funds for scores of conservation, supply management, drought relief and water treatment projects around the state.
But the bond was pulled from the November 2010 ballot and again in 2012 amid concerns that the state’s chronic deficit crises would doom it to failure. The big bond is currently scheduled to appear on this November’s ballot — but is virtually certain to be replaced by Wolk’s bill or one of two major alternatives in the Legislature.
During today’s hearing, Wolk said it will be crucial to hold down the cost of a water bond, whatever its final form.
“I think one of the greatest dangers is that we just keep adding and adding and adding,” she said. “So it’s going to be very, very difficult. But I think we all need to do that, because I do believe we need a water bond.”
The two other bond bills working their way toward legislative action are AB1331, by Los Angeles-area Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (for $6.5 billion), and SB927, by San Joaquin Valley state Sens. Anthony Canella and Andy Vidak, both Republicans (for $9.2 billion).
The Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee released a brief comparison of the three measures last week (hat tip: Chris Austin of Maven’s Notebook; comparison is embedded below). The two Democratic measures are very similar, though AB1331 would devote more money to storage and less to conservation and regional water projects. The Republican bill omits conservation spending and would devote $1 billion to groundwater cleanup instead of safe drinking water projects.
Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to say whether he’d support placing a water bond on the November ballot.