Lawmakers in drought-hit California agree on water plan

California Governor Jerry Brown (shown here Tuesday, third from right, with state lawmakers) has signed legislation to put a water bond to voters in November. (Justin Short photo, Gov.Ca.gov)

Sacramento | Reuters — California Governor Jerry Brown approved on Wednesday a US$7.6 billion plan to improve water supplies in the drought-stricken state that will be put before voters in November, ending a year of political wrangling over the measure.

California is in the throes of a devastating multi-year drought that is expected to cost its economy $2.2 billion in lost crops, jobs and other damages (all figures US$).

On the last possible day to approve the ballot measure, Democrats and Republicans fought over what projects to include, with Republicans arguing for more funding for reservoirs and Democrats saying that damming rivers and flooding canyons to build them is damaging to the environment.

Last-minute intervention by Brown, a fiscal moderate, brought the sides together.

“With this water bond, legislators from both parties have affirmed their faith in California’s future,” Brown said.

Democratic Speaker Toni G. Atkins said late Wednesday that the water bond was “the biggest investment in water storage in decades”.

Senate Republican leader Bob Huff said the plan, which costs less than the $11 billion bond that the California legislature agreed to in 2009, dedicated nearly 40 per cent of funds to water storage.

The $11 billion bond was headed for the November ballot if the governor and the state legislators did not come to an agreement.

The agreed bond includes $2.7 billion for new storage, including facilities in the Central Valley; $900 million for a groundwater cleanup investment in Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Valley; over $250 million in drinking and wastewater treatment projects and statewide investments to tackle drought and climate change, said State Democratic Senator Lois Wolk.

“This is a very different bond than the pork-laden one currently on the ballot, which helped some regions of this state, but hurt others,” said Wolk. “This bond is good for the Delta and all of California, and it’s affordable.”

The new bond includes $7.12 billion in new debt, plus existing unspent bond funds of $425 million for a total of $7.545 billion.

The measure will be Proposition 1 on November’s ballot.

— Reporting for Reuters by Sharon Bernstein and Robin Respaut in Sacramento.

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