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Seymour Urges Long-Term Solutions to Drought

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Drought-stricken California cannot rely on a short-term fix for its worsening water problems and must begin taking serious steps to promote long-range conservation and development of new water sources, the state’s junior senator said Thursday.

Republican Sen. John F. Seymour, who formerly represented Orange County in the state Senate, said in a breakfast interview with Times editors and reporters that the state needs to enlist new technology in efforts to reclaim fresh water from the sea and conserve the vast quantities of water used in California agricultural production.

At the same time, the former Anaheim mayor said he has drafted legislation to address the water crisis in the near term. Seymour’s bill, to be introduced in the next two weeks, would authorize the creation of what would amount to a federal water bank.

The measure would authorize the government to use federal dams and canals to move water from one state to another, make loans to local government agencies to purchase water and defer payments for water works from communities hardest hit by drought.

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Ultimately, Seymour said, the state’s water needs must be addressed not only through new sources of supply, such as desalination plants, but also through a major commitment to reduced usage, particularly by agricultural interests.

“What California needs, I think, in the longer term is not only desalinization, but much better water conservation--particularly in Southern California. Agriculture is going to have to learn to conserve a lot more,” he said.

Seymour singled out for praise the Orange County Water District’s continuing efforts to collect and store water in vast underground deposits of rock and sand that are used to feed a network of ground wells.

“Orange County . . . has done an extraordinary job with storage facilities and underground storage basins,” he said. “They’re in real good shape.”

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Appointed in January by Gov. Pete Wilson to fill Wilson’s unexpired Senate term, Seymour, 53, also said he will work hard in the 102nd Congress to achieve a compromise on a California desert protection bill sponsored by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.). The bill has been stalled for years because Cranston and Wilson could not agree on many of its provisions, chiefly the amount of desert acreage that would be protected.

Seymour said he has not yet made up his mind about a Bush Administration proposal to draft a sweeping free-trade agreement with Mexico.

The trade accord could open lucrative new markets to California manufacturers, especially those who make high-technology products, Seymour said. But it also could hurt California growers who are subject to environmental regulations that are more strict and costly than those imposed in Mexico, he said.

“I just don’t think it’s right that agriculture in California take the big hit for this one. . . . If the cost of growing my product because of concern for the environment . . . puts me, as a California farmer, at a distinct disadvantage, that’s not fair trade.”

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On the political front, Seymour asserted that a 1992 primary challenge from conservative Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) would help rather than hurt him in a general election by defining Seymour as a fiscal conservative who is a moderate on social issues. Former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, a liberal who barely lost the governorship to Wilson last fall, so far is the only Democrat to announce for Seymour’s seat.

“I think a campaign with Bill Dannemeyer in one way will help, because it will define me,” Seymour said. “Since my name recognition is as low as it is, I need to be defined.”

Seymour said he has a solid record as a conservative on fiscal matters, law and order issues and foreign affairs. “So where does (Dannemeyer) quarrel? He quarrels on the question of choice (for abortions), he quarrels on the flip-flop on offshore oil drilling, and his favorite subject and fixation, gay-bashing.” Seymour once opposed but now favors abortion rights and restrictions on offshore oil drilling.

“I think that says, ‘Here’s a Republican that yeah, he’s conservative in these areas, but he’s really moderate over here.’ Going against Dianne Feinstein, that’s exactly where I want to be,” he said.

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Reacting to a story in Thursday’s editions of The Times, Seymour said his chief aide, William Cranham, made a “mistake in judgment” during Seymour’s tenure in the state Senate by twice contacting California real estate regulators about a real estate investor with whom Seymour had business dealings.

But Seymour said he continues to have confidence in Cranham, who now serves as the chief of staff in Seymour’s U.S. Senate office. “He didn’t do anything dishonest intentionally. . . . Bill’s not that kind of guy,” Seymour said. “It was a mistake in judgment, clearly. But so? A lot of us make mistakes in judgment. I’ve made them.” Seymour has said had been unaware of Cranham’s contacts with the state officials.

Seymour said that dealing with California’s water problems is at the top of his agenda. The bill he is drafting will become one of several measures seeking to address both the short- and long-term consequences of the California drought.

The House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, for example, on Wednesday approved a drought relief measure that contains water bank authority similar to that proposed by Seymour. The House bill also would authorize $30 million in federal drought relief for California.

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