California water bond pushed back to 2012

Worried that Californians struggling through the economic slump will reject an $11-billion water bond measure this year, state lawmakers acted Monday to pull the initiative from the November ballot and put it off until the 2012 election.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger requested the postponement of Proposition 18, and he will sign the bill approved late Monday by the state Senate and Assembly, a spokesman said.

Some backers of the water plan opposed the delay, saying the need to fix the state’s water system is immediate.

“There are some parts of this bond, for all its controversy, that are very important and that we need to get on with very quickly,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), who heads the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife.

Backers said the bond measure would pay for improvements to ensure the quality and reliability of California’s water supply, but recent polls show voters’ support falling short on having the state take on the additional debt.

“This year is a very tough time given the economic situation,” said Assemblywoman Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), who wrote the legislation delaying the measure.

Setting the measure for the November 2012 ballot would give supporters two years to educate voters about the need for the bond measure, she said.

The bond measure would authorize the state to pay for expanding underground and surface water storage, restoring the Sacramento Delta ecosystem and efforts to clean up existing groundwater, among other things.

The bond was opposed Monday by some environmental groups and lawmakers who argued that it is too costly for taxpayers and loaded down with pork-barrel projects. They called for shelving the bond and opposed putting the same measure on the ballot in two years.

Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) criticized the bond for including money for economic development projects, a water taxi service at Lake Tahoe and the construction of water education centers, saying that spending is not directly related to improving water quality.

“It is fiscally irresponsible,” Wolk said. “We need to repeal it, revise it and refocus it on the true needs of California.”

Other environmentalists objected that the measure favors building new surface reservoirs and does not provide enough emphasis on water recycling and conservation.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) argued that delaying the ballot measure by two years will also allow those with concerns about the bond to propose changes to make it better.

But other lawmakers challenged the notion that the bond measure cannot pass this year.

“Is the problem the lack of will of voters or the lack of will with this Assembly to muster up the courage to go out and make the hard sell for something we all know we desperately need?” said Assemblyman Anthony Adams (R-Hesperia).