Elliott: ‘Really skeptical’ on water bond

Outgoing San Joaquin County supervisors Larry Ruhstaller and Ken Vogel may be willing to cautiously endorse the new $7.5 billion water bond, but at least one other supervisor isn’t so sure.

Bob Elliott — whose tenure on the board will continue at least through 2016 — told me today that he’s “really skeptical” and has not yet taken a formal position.

He likes the $2.7 billion for water storage, among other things.

But Elliott said he’s concerned that a provision in the bond allowing for public funding of water purchases could support the governor’s twin tunnels plan.

“I think there’s just plenty of broadly worded language in there that is certainly subject to interpretation,” Elliott said.

The bond allows taxpayer money to be used to increase river flows to help fish.

But what happens, Elliott asks, once the water has fulfilled its purpose and reached the Delta? Could it be exported through the tunnels?

“Then we have the taxpayers picking up some of the slack for the water contractors,” Elliott said, adding that sounds like a “backdoor approach” to funding the $25 billion project.

Explicit language prohibiting the flows from being exported would have resolved his concerns, Elliott said.

Bond supporters have said the existing language is strong enough. The bond says any taxpayer-funded environmental flows would be above and beyond the amount of water that is required to remain in the rivers even after the tunnels are built.

Could some of that water be exported once it has fulfilled its purpose? Yes. But other diverters will have just as much claim. So the tunnels folks have no particular advantage, bond supporters say. Should the bond forbid spending money on water conservation, since conservation will leave more water in rivers that could then be shipped south?

We’ll be hearing a lot about this the next couple of months.

For the record, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors has taken no formal position on the bond. Ruhstaller and Vogel, who have announced their support with certain caveats, represent the board on the Delta Counties Coalition. That entity has agreed to support the bond.

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    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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