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A watered-down water bond for California

Drop the old $11-billion water bond and give voters one they can pass

California lawmakers pulled an $11.1-billion water bond from the 2010 ballot because they knew it was too big to pass. They did the same thing with the same measure in 2012.

Now that same bond is headed toward November's ballot despite Gov. Jerry Brown's warning that he would support only a smaller, $6-billion version. The state does indeed need a water bond — to fund projects to make better use of its most precious resource through efficiency and recycling; to store water in wet years for use in sustained droughts like this one; to ensure water quality in struggling communities throughout the state; and to repair damage to sensitive ecosystems, most notably in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which supplies water to most Californians. Lawmakers should make success more likely by finally letting go of the old bond and crafting a trimmer bond that voters can embrace.

That means not making the bond a referendum on proposed twin tunnels to move Sacramento River water around, instead of through, the delta. The tunnel proposal continues to move forward on a separate track and would not be funded by any version of the bond. So it's a shame that much of the dickering in Sacramento focuses on the tunnel project and whether bond-funded delta restoration would help or hurt it. Delta restoration should proceed with or without the tunnels.

In addition to storage, environmental restoration and efficiency projects, the bond is needed for groundwater, which after too many years of delay has finally found its place atop the state's priority list. As this page noted Thursday, some aquifers are threatened by wastewater produced by fracking; and as discussed here Tuesday, much of California's groundwater supply is being too rapidly depleted and should be governed by sensible management of the type proposed in AB 1739 and SB 1168.

The third piece of the groundwater puzzle is the cleanup of contaminated aquifers in the San Fernando Valley and similar basins to allow better use of local water supplies and decrease demands on the delta and other sources of imported water. The path to more usable groundwater and more sustainable water imports is a bond that funds groundwater cleanup — if only lawmakers can complete their work before the deadline for the ballot passes this month.

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