California Senate deadlocks on $10.5-billion water bond

California Senate deadlocks on $10.5-billion water bond
Aerial view of Folsom Lake last December showed signs of the drought. A $10.5-billion water bond has been proposed in California. (Randall Benton /Sacramento Bee)

The state Senate deadlocked Monday on a $10.5-billion water bond measure proposed for the November ballot when Republicans opposed it for not providing enough for water storage and to protect water rights.

Supporters of SB 848 could not muster the two-thirds vote needed to put the measure on the November ballot as a replacement for an $11.1-billion water bond that senators believe has too much pork to win voter approval. The vote on the measure was 22-9, with some members abstaining.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said of the vote: "I expected this today."  He said it paves the way for more negotiations to reach a compromise that has some Republican support. "It's time to have an honest public discussion about water and a water bond because there are a lot of side-room discussions going on," Steinberg said.

A key feature of the bond measure voted on Monday is that it is neutral about building expensive tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento delta to benefit Southern California, Steinberg said. "A bond which stokes a north-south water fight will not pass the muster of the voters," the senator warned.

The measure would provide $3 billion for surface storage projects such as dams and reservoirs, and $1 billion for groundwater treatment projects, including a large one in Los Angeles County. Another  $900 million would be provided for drinking water and waste-water projects in communities that don't have clean water, and $1.4 billion would go to grants for regional projects.

Other funds go to restoration of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its ecosystem, including  $400 million for improved levies.

Republican Sens. Tom Berryhill of Modesto and Ted Gaines of Rocklin said they want to see more guarantees on money for water storage, conveyance and protection of water rights. Gaines said it appears existing law would preclude increasing the height of the Shasta Dam to store more water.

"Water storage means something to our kids and the future of California," Berryhill said. Republican Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford said the proposed bond measure is moving in the right direction and that a compromise appears within grasp. "We're getting real close," Vidak said.