California water bond measure advances, but differences remain

California drought water storage
The Shasta Dam is part of the state’s water storage system that lawmakers say is inadequate and requires a bond measure to be approved by voters.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

SACRAMENTO – A Senate panel Tuesday advanced one of the three competing proposals for water bond measures, but lawmakers acknowledged that more negotiations will be required to reach a consensus on what to put before voters.

Lawmakers have two months to approve a bond measure that would replace an $11-billion water bond currently on the November ballot that is viewed by many as too large and too full of pork projects to win voter approval.

“If we miss the June 26 deadline, then we are stuck with the current bond, which is destined for failure,” warned Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood).

On Tuesday, the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee voted 7-2 to approve an $8-billion bond measure drafted by Rendon to fund water quality, conservation and water storage projects.


Rendon agreed to some changes, but opposed the idea of having the bond allocate funds to specific agencies including nine regional conservancies, warning such earmarking might be seen by voters as favoring some groups. “We want to make sure that this bond effort is devoid of any perception of … pork,” Rendon said. Instead, he wants the state to be able to require competition by local agencies wanting money for projects.

However, Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), the chairwoman of the panel, said allocating the money to specific agencies will make the program more effective and the bill was changed to include the allocation to specific agencies. “These agencies have ramped up and they know how to get money out the door,” Pavley said.

Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) said leaving the allocation of much of the money up to the governor’s administration could result in some of it going to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial tunnels project to divert water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

A competing bill by Wolk would provide a $6.825-billion bond measure, including funds earmarked for nine conservancy agencies. There are major differences between the Rendon and Wolk measures. Rendon’s would provide $2.5 billion for water storage projects to be allocated by the state. Wolk is proposing $1.025 billion for water storage.


Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) has his own, $9.2-billion bond measure proposal, and opposed Rendon’s bill, saying it does not provide enough money for water storage.

Both bills have additional committee hearings scheduled, and Sen Bill Monning (D-Carmel) said negotiations will need to continue “to achieve a unified bill and a consensus bill that addresses the critical issues, and one voters support.”


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