The water bond: pros and fiery cons

Is the $7.5 billion water bond the legislature passed this week good for the state? And does it put the hurt on the Delta region?

Sen. Lois Wolk of Davis, who co-authored the bill, says it’s good.

“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, who sticks up for the Delta. “This bond is good for the Delta and all of California, and it’s affordable.”

The bond meets state needs, but ”it includes hard-won victories for the Delta including language to ensure this bond is BDCP neutral and includes no funding that can be used to pay for the Delta tunnels or tunnel mitigation projects,” Wolk said.

“Also included are requirements that Delta communities have a voice in decisions on projects in the Delta—as well as first-ever funding for the Delta Conservancy and the opportunity for the Conservancy to demonstrate that it can deliver on the important charge it was given in 2009,” her statement said.

“This bond is a compromise,” she concluded. “It isn’t perfect. But it is still a win for the Delta and the state, and it is a bond that voters can support in November.

No, no, no, said Bill Jenings, head of the California Sportfishing Protection A.

Jennings called the bond “a poster-child of pork barrel politics, a rejection of 21st Century solutions and a return to the failures of the Dam Building era.”

“Contrary to claims by the architects of the Water Bond, it represents an enormous underground subsidy for BDCP’s Delta tunnels,” Jenings wrote.  

How? “It provides $2.7 billion for new, marginal, river-damaging, low yield dams benefiting special interests that will provide little “new” water and would not be economically viable except for lavish public subsidies.  To persuade the dam lobby to support the Bond, the legislature increased funding for dam construction by slashing funds allocated to recycling by more than 44% from the previous version of the Bond.”

Also, “Under existing regulations, purchased water upstream becomes “abandoned” as it enters the Delta and thereby is “available” for export through the tunnels to southern California.  Public purchases of water represent an enormous subsidy for special interests and supporters of the Delta tunnels.”

Yes, the he bond provides millions of dollars for new habitat in the Delta, but “the vast majority of existing habitat restoration projects in the 223,000 acres of present conservation lands in the Delta have failed because of the massive diversion of water that is a necessary prerequisite for functional, productive aquatic habitat that benefits native species,” Jennings wrote.

So there’s a sketch of pros and cons pending further analysis. I have the greatest repect for Wolk, but off the cuff it appears the only reason the Delta is receiving environmental restoration funds is to mitigate the exports through the tunnels. Therefore — again, as a preliminary judgment — the bond is not “tunnel neutral;” it helps make the tunnels a reality.


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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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