Two powerful California water agencies, the Westlands
Water District in the Central Valley and the Metropolitan
Water District of Southern California, support a legislative
water compromise in part because they believe it brings
the Peripheral Canal closer to reality.
The agencies themselves say they would pay for the
huge project, using the money from the rate increases
paid by their customers.
"All the agencies will share the cost of conveyance," said MWD's Jeff Kightlinger, which he said could cost between
$6 billion and $12 billion. He testified before a legislative hearing
on the water proposal. Rate hikes could total 10 percent to 12 percent for urban and industrial users, and perhaps
50 percent for agricultural customers, he said. General agreeement has been reached among the water
agencies that a canal is needed, he added.
But environmentalists who support the legislation authored
by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the bill does not give a green-light to construction of the canal, or any other capital
projects. The bill, which can be viewed here, focuses on governance of the delta, environmental safeguards,
water supply reliability and other issues. Funding
for those issues, perhaps in the $9 billion range, will be addressed separately, he said.
"The bill does not authorize a canal," Ann Notthoff of the Natural Resources Defense Council
testified Monday at a legislative hearing.
The divergence reflects the fragile nature of the group
supporting the water-reform package, which includes environmentalists and others long opposed
to a canal, or conveyance. Whether or not the bill actually eases
the possibility of a canal is apparently still a matter
of dispute among some coalition members.
Steimberg, a mediator by profession, acknowledged that it had
been a challenge to hammer out an agreement between the parties.
"We need to keep the coalition together," he said in a separate interview. At the hearing, representives
of the NRDC, the Environmental Defense Fund, the water
agencies and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
spoke in favor of the bill.
The fact that both water agencies, among the most powerful
political players in state water issues, back the bill
reflects their belief that the legislation assists
them in their ultimate goal. The bill provides "a clear path to conveyance," said lobbyist Ed Manning, representing Westlands.
"It's a heck of a lot better than the status quo."
Steinberg's SB 1 7x, the product of months of negotiations, seeks to
provide environmental protections for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta while assuring stable water deliveries
for the central and southern parts of the state.
It does not contain the Peripheral Canal, nor does
it contain any of three above-ground storage projects associated with the negotiations
- Temperance Flat near Fresno and Sites in Colusa County,
and raising the level at Los Vaqueros Reservoir in
Contra Costa County.
But analyses by MWD and Westlands suggest that language
deep in the 116-page bill helps expedite development of the canal over
time - a project already authorized in state law. The state
has begun studying the environmental impacts of canal,
although it has not settled on whether the channel
should go through or around the delta.
The canal is a flashpoint in the debate over California
water policy. The multibillion-dollar canal - rejected by voters in 1982 - would move water from the Sacramento River around
the delta and into the California Aqueduct. One goal
is to get more water to the south without having huge
pumps pull it out of the delta, an action that damages the fisheries
and has drawn court rulings. Opponents believe the
canal could choke off water to the delta, worsening
the environmental hazard.
Steinberg has proposed a top-to-bottom overhaul of the management of the delta by setting
up a new panel to decide critical policy, expand the power of California's water-use enforcers and create the position of Delta Watermaster
to ride herd over the delta protections. It establishes
a policy that protecting the environment and assuring
reliable water supplies are of equal importance - a finding that is a departure from the past.
It would set up an independent scientific panel to examine
the delta's needs. It includes fines of up to $5,000 per day for illegal diversions of water. It authorizes
the State Water Resources Control Board to initiate
investigations on its own, rather than in response
to complaints, and it requires the state to put into
effect an aggressive groundwater management program.
The delta is a vast estuary east of San Francisco through
which flows most of California's drinking and agricultural water. The delta, fed by
the state's major rivers, is crisscrossed by aging, fragile levees
and sloughs. Powerful pumps at the southern edge of
the delta pull water into the California Aqueduct and
move it to central and southern California. Sustaining
the health of the delta -- balancing the needs for water with environmental protections
-- represents the crux of the debate over California's water future.
The legislation would repeal the California Bay-Delta Authority Act, currently the principal statute
governing the delta, and shifts key authority to a
seven-member Delta Stewardship Council that would decide
delta policy. The Council would be an independent state
agency and have authority over delta development.
The council also would have a say-so over the Peripheral Canal, a regulatory hurdle that
does not exist in current law. But the council also
would be required to follow the proposed statute, which
says delta policy "should improve the water conveyance system and expand
statewide water storage" and provide a "reliable water supply."
"Does it specifically say it will authorize a Peripheral
Canal? No. But it clears a path for the canal" said one water agency representative.
The bill also contains stringent conservation and groundwater
management programs, details how delta-area local governments will participate in the management
of the delta. It includes conservation requiring a
per capita, 20 percent cut in water use by 2020. The water districts' participation in the program is voluntary, although
districts face losses in funding if they don't participate.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked lawmakers to consider
a water package that would get more water to the central
and southern parts of the state, ensure environmental
protections for the delta and provide long-term storage to protect against drought.
Water has long prompted the fiercest political fights
in the Capitol, traditionally with lawmakers from the
rain-rich north opposing efforts to transfer water southward.
But several sources say the north-south split is not dominating the latest discussions.
The most sensitive areas are funding and the creation
of the Stewardship Council.
The funding piece of the proposal is expected to be
heard at a hearing later this week.