Delta blues

Photo: California Department of Water Resources
Photo: California Department of Water Resources

California’s legislature ended its session Saturday morning without doing anything to address the problems of the Bay-Delta, or more generally of the state’s dysfunctional water governance system.  As Rick explained last month, water was at the top of the agenda this year for both the Republican Governor and the Democratic leaders of the legislature. This spring, the combination of a third year of drought with widespread agreement that the state’s water delivery system is unsustainable in its current form seemed likely to catalyze fundamental reform.

But much of the legislative year was spent in divisive wrangling over the state’s budget. When water issues finally got to the front of the line, disagreement between legislative leaders and the Governor over funding new dams, as well as internal divisions among Democrats on the desirability of an “isolated conveyance” or peripheral canal, derailed the reform process. The package of water bills put forward by Senate leader Darrel Steinberg and Assembly leader Karen Bass, was not brought to a vote.

It’s clear that the legislature’s work is not done for the year, but it is not clear that they’ll come back to water issues. According to the Sacramento Bee, Gov. Schwarzenegger has promised to call special sessions on education and the tax system, but is currently mulling Democrats’ request for a special session on water. It’s also not clear at the moment that a special session would be productive. Although Steinberg said at the end of the session that more progress had been made in a few months than over the last 40 years, his own party appeared to be in disarray on water issues during the session’s end game.

Perhaps the better course of valor at this point would be to do more work laying the groundwork for reform this fall outside the pressure cooker of the legislative session, and be ready to hit the ground running in January before election fever hits with full force. Meanwhile, northern California got a little bit of early rain this weekend, and another storm is expected early this week. Let’s hope its a wet winter, but not so wet that people forget how badly the state needs water reform.

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Reader Comments

3 Replies to “Delta blues”

  1. Let’s hope the mad rush to cram through water bills doesn’t continue, and that the issue is taken up early in January, incorporating the input of the many concerned citizens, environmental groups, and water agencies who spoke out at August’s hearings, before Senator Steinberg & Assemblymember Bass capitulated to Governor Schwarzenneger’s many demands, and essentially hijacked the process. At an earlier hearing, Mr. Kanouse, of EBMUD recommended that because of the ambitious nature of the changes sought, the water legislation should be taken on the road, so everyone could kick its tires. Wise counsel, and repeated by many, including some of the most prominent water/public trust attorneys in the state. Last week’s process, with NRDC, Nature Conservancy, and Westlands Water District in closed door meetings was a travesty on the democratic process–Mariko Yamada, Assemblymember (Davis) commented that the lobbyists had seen the bills before the legislators. Closed door processes, which exclude legislators, community groups, environmental organizations, India tribes, while hand picked special interest groups wheel and deal will not build confidence in the government, or any new water legislation. The bills, as written, were guaranteed to produce years of lawsuits (takings issues, anyone?), and further disgust for the whole process, where science takes a back seat to cronyism.

  2. Any comprehensive new state water plan that neglects to address the 50-year-old drainage problem on half a million acres of selenium-tainted land in the Western San Joaquin Valley is doomed to failure.
    Do we really want to guarantee water to the San Luis Unit of the CVP when the current proposed drainage solution for 600 growers in Westlands Water District is $2 billion?
    The cognitive dissonance continues.

    Lloyd Carter

  3. California feud breaks out on clean energy plan:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE58B1YM20090915

    “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will veto the renewable energy standard passed by the Legislature and launch his own plan by executive order today with a similar goal but different rules, possibly counting nuclear and hydropower as renewable” [Solve Climate]

    Good bills were almost there, utilities agreed to the goal and to the maintaining the existing CA definition of renewable power, but labor demanded more of the renewable energy to be generated in state. 33% is going to be really hard to meet. It made sense to give the utilities design flexibility, especially if that meant using existing transmission. Now California may be the cause of damming wild rivers in BC. In a way, not all that different from the giant coal power plants built in the Southwest years ago, just another distant energy colony.

    Transmission is one of the biggest environmental issues with renewable power. Why build it twice? Labor is asking to dig a hole so they can fill it back up.

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About Holly

Holly Doremus

Holly Doremus is the James H. House and Hiram H. Hurd Professor of Environmental Regulation at UC Berkeley. Doremus brings a strong background in life sciences and a comm…

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