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Water Bills Pass California Legislature Ending Years of Wrangling
SACRAMENTO, California, November 4, 2009 (ENS) - The California state Legislature today approved a far-reaching water package featuring an $11-billion bond as the Sun rose over the Capitol building after an all night legislative session.

The package includes a comprehensive policy measure that improves water conservation, groundwater monitoring, water rights and governance as well as a water infrastructure bond to be placed on the ballot in November 2010.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has indicated he will sign the legislation into law, ending decades of political wrangling and failure to deal with the state's water worsening crisis.

"Water is the lifeblood of everything we do in California," said the governor this morning. "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 an historic achievement."

On October 11, the governor ordered the legislature to meet in a special session to address California's water crisis. He says the water package passed in the special session today accomplished that goal.

The confluence of three rivers - the San Joaquin, Old, and Middle Rivers - in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. (Photo by Brother Grimm)

The historic plan increases water supply reliability while improving the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the source of drinking water for two-thirds of the state.

The plan includes both a comprehensive policy package that improves water conservation, groundwater monitoring, water rights and governance as well as a water infrastructure bond to be placed on next year's ballot.

"The package includes conservation and storage, groundwater protection, water rights protection, and Delta protection and represents the most significant water infrastructure and policy advances since the State Water Project in the 1960s," said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass.

"This is a responsible plan - no one is getting 100 percent of what they want. Everyone who gets something has to give something, too. It is the only way to balance the many different individual interests for the overall greater good of having a safe and stable water supply for the entire State of California," Bass said.

Assemblymember Jared Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat who chairs the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife, and Assemblymember Anna Caballero, a Salinas Democrat who chairs the Assembly Committee on Local Government, were part of the Speaker's negotiating team on the water package.

"The package of water policy bills passed by the Legislature today reflects the most significant improvement in California's water management in decades," Huffman said.

"The bills, if signed by the Governor, would set critical water conservation mandates, finally bring California more in line with other western states regarding groundwater monitoring and enforcement of water rights, and the Delta bills would provide the direction needed to resolve the 30 year gridlock over water and fisheries in the Delta," Huffman said.

Huffman said he believes these bills will "help to reverse the water crisis in California while also protecting and restoring the ecosystem and salmon fisheries in the Central Valley and Delta."

Caballero said, "We worked really hard to create a water package that will bring resources to communities hard hit by the lack of water. Additionally, the package will prioritize drought relief water projects for farmers and farm workers; helping to put people back to work and create jobs."

"This package deserves to be signed by the governor and then the bond needs to be passed by the public," Bass said. "It is our best hope to ensure clean, reliable water for California's families, farms and businesses."

Assembly Minority Leader Sam Blakeslee, a San Luis Obispo Republican, said, "The water package passed this morning by the Assembly is a bipartisan approach to ending California's water crisis. It solves a problem that has been 40 years in the making by ensuring new water supply, protecting water rights and promoting conservation. These actions will help bring much needed water and jobs to Californians throughout our state."

Senate Republican Leader Dennis Hollingsworth said, "After more than two years of negotiations, Senate Republicans have reached an agreement with the majority party that meets the water supply needs of California's growing cities and farms. The agreement would implement a strategy that includes conservation, storage facilities, recycling, and Delta protection measures."

"With hundreds of thousands of acres fallow and tens of thousands of unemployed farmers and farm workers, this comprehensive water package represents a step toward getting water flowing and helping people get back to work," said Hollingsworth.

California's water system was last upgraded in 1960, for a population of 15.8 million. Now, 36 million people call California home and the California Department of Finance projects that over 59 million will reside in the state by 2050.

"In 2005, enough water to supply 13 million families for a year was lost to the sea because there was nowhere to store it. Securing storage capacity for water created by rainfall and snow melts has been a key point Republicans have pushed for in this comprehensive water legislation," said Hollingsworth.

"It is important that this water measure address not only environmental and individual needs, but that economic uses of water resources are factored into this water use plan. From a practical standpoint, increasing water storage is a no-brainer when the state faces such severe water shortages in the future and has lost such a significant amount of water due to inadequate storage capacity," said Hollingsworth.

The bond would set aside $3 billion for new water storage and $2 billion for ecosystem restoration in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

It would fund recycling and groundwater cleanup needed in Southern California and a dam removal project on the Klamath River in Northern California. It would cover restoration of the Salton Sea and watershed projects on the San Gabriel and Los Angeles rivers.

The conservation measure sets a target of reducing urban per capita water use by one-fifth by 2020. Agencies that fail to meet their targets would lose opportunities for state water grants and loans.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.



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