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Sounding Off: ‘Deal’ or ‘no deal’ time on water

With our state in the third year of drought, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ran a veto gambit aimed at breaking the legislative logjam on a sorely needed water deal to rebuild our crumbling state water system.

The governor clearly set the stakes: “I’m fighting to rebuild our crumbling water system…. Water is jobs for California, water is food, water is our future, water is our economy.”

Weeks of private “Big Five” sessions followed. What has emerged from state Senate leaders is Senate Bill 7X1 (by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.)

Key aspects of the bill include: strict mandatory conservation and groundwater management programs; guidelines on how delta-area local governments will participate in management of the delta; and the overall repeal of the current primary statute governing the delta (the California Bay-Delta Authority Act) with the shifting of vital authority on delta policy and development decisions to an independent, seven-member state agency (the Delta Stewardship Council).

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Inside “buzz” indicates that the most problematic issues regarding the bill will be funding and the creation of the Delta Stewardship Council. A joint hearing of the Senate and Assembly water committees on the bill began Monday. And, that is also when water reform legislation requesting billions of dollars in bonds to repair levees and build new dams could come forward.

In addressing the Southern California Water Committee last week, Schwarzenegger remained optimistic and unwavering stating that: “A water system designed to serve 18 million people is collapsing under the pressure of 38 million people. The delta is dying. Federal judges, as we all know, are turning off the pumps. Farmers can’t plant crops. Building permits are being denied. Jobs are being lost and lives are being destroyed…. [W]e have areas where there’s 40%-plus unemployment rate and people are standing in the food line. So this is really outrageous. The water package that we’re negotiating is big and it is comprehensive. We will finally build — if the legislators agree and come to an agreement, and we put it on the ballot and it is approved by the people — we will build the peripheral canal. We will build more above and below the ground water storage. We will fix the Delta and its ecosystem. And we will require conservation and groundwater monitoring and we will clean, also, the groundwater.”

Federal legislative influences continue to impact the situation. Congressman George Miller tried to gain passage of a water recycling bill for the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Along with the Speaker of the House, he has refused to allow San Joaquin Valley water legislation to be debated unless Congress considers spending tens of millions of dollars on water recycling programs that he wants. If Miller truly wants an efficient water recycling project for his district, he should look to our own state-of-the-art Orange County Groundwater Replenishment System.

Since the system began operating 22 months ago, it has taken 15 billion gallons of highly treated sewer water supplied by the O.C. Sanitation District and purified it into 10.5 billion gallons of new water. That’s enough water to fill 142 Angel stadiums in Anaheim. Through an O.C. Sanitation District and O.C. Water District partnership, highly treated sewer water that would have been released back into the ocean is now being recycled. About half of this new water is used to recharge the groundwater basin. Twenty-five percent of it is pumped 13 miles up along the Santa Ana River into ponds, where it slowly percolates into the ground. The other 25% goes to Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley, where it is injected into wells that build up a fresh water barrier and keep salty ocean water from seeping inland.

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So, for now, the water deal waiting plan continues. Are our state lawmakers on the verge of an historic bipartisan comprehensive water deal vote? The countdown continues.


HARRY SIDHU is a member of the Anaheim City Council.


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