California Lawmakers Introduce Water Bonds

California legislators from both parties introduced strong water bond legislation last week, giving new hope to California farmers and their employees whose jobs are increasingly threatened by the state's water supply crisis, said Western Growers, an agricultural trade association.

State Sens. Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto) and Dean Florez (D-Shafter) both introduced comprehensive water infrastructure bond legislation that would provide new surface and groundwater storage, improved Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta conveyance systems, and Delta restoration measures. The senators join Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein as advocates for a strong water bond that will restore the state's ability to provide adequate supplies of water for its growing population, farms and environmental needs.

"The introduction of these water bonds so soon after resolution of the budget crisis is a hopeful sign for California farmers," said Tom Nassif, Western Growers president and chief executive officer. "Farm and water organizations have worked long and hard with Gov. Schwarzenegger, Senator Feinstein, and members of the California legislature on the critical need for immediate action on the state's water infrastructure. Senator Cogdill continues to lead the way by standing firm for bond language that provides a measure of certainty that these critically needed improvements will actually be implemented if the people of California approve the bond initiative. Senator Florez's new bond proposal presents an alternative that also provides much of the certainty we are looking for, and we applaud his action."

SB 371 (Cogdill) calls for $9.98 billion in general obligation bonds with $3 billion dedicated to the development of additional storage for statewide benefit and another $1.5 billion dedicated to regional water supply reliability. Funds are also proposed for implementation of a sustainable resource management plan for the Delta and local and regional conveyance project ($2.4 billion); water conservation and water use efficiency ($520 million); water quality improvement ($950 million); water resources stewardship ($1 billion); and $610 million for other projects including restoration of watersheds, removal of fish barriers, and ocean protection.

SB 301 (Florez) calls for $15 billion in general obligation bonds with $7 billion for additional storage projects, $1.5 billion for regional water supply reliability, $3 billion for Delta ecosystem restoration, water supply reliability and in-Delta investments and funding levels similar to SB 371 for other projects.

Nassif warned that a water bond will not provide immediate relief. "Even if this water bond were enacted tomorrow, it will be many years before water storage and conveyance projects can be completed. Federal and state leaders must confront the reality that rules designed to protect fish species are causing irreparable harm to thousands of Californians whose livelihoods depend on farmers who are being forced to abandon fields and cut jobs. It is time for a candid public discussion about whether we wish to protect farms and the jobs they provide from becoming extinct."

Western Growers is an agricultural trade association whose members from Arizona and California grow, pack and ship 90 percent of the fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in California and 75 percent of those commodities in Arizona. This totals about half of the nation's fresh produce.