California Water Package Just Start of Work Ahead

Early Wednesday morning, the California Legislature passed a package of bills and a bond proposal that are designed to ensure a reliable and clean water supply for future generations as well as restore the ecologically sensitive areas of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The bills will create a Delta Council, stricter groundwater monitoring and enforcement of illegal diversions, more ambitious water conservation policy, and water recycling and conservation programs.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who held a press conference after the final vote, is expected to sign the comprehensive infrastructure package.

“Water is the lifeblood of everything we do in California. Without clean, reliable water, we cannot build, we cannot farm, we cannot grow and we cannot prosper. That is why I am so proud that the legislature, Democrats and Republicans, came together and tackled one of the most complicated issues in our state’s history. This comprehensive water package is an historic achievement.

“I particularly want to applaud the leadership of Senate President Darrell Steinberg, (D-Sacramento). He has been a tireless leader, a relentless advocate for the environment and a true statesman,” he said.

The bond proposal is for $11 billion and voters must approve it. The governor explained that $30 billion would be added to the bond to fund the program over many years to serve an expected 50 million in population. The state currently has a population of 38 million, he said.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) praised the work of the California Legislature.

"This is a major breakthrough that sets a new framework for providing both

water supply reliability and protecting our fragile ecosystems," said Laura Harnish, regional director of EDF. "It puts California on course for a smarter water future."

"Future generations will look back at this legislation as the first big step on the path to a sustainable water future for California," said Cynthia Koehler, EDF's senior consulting attorney, who helped to negotiate the environmental safeguards in the legislation. "It is the most progressive package of state water policy reform in the last three decades."

EDF worked for more than a year to establish several key environmental safeguards in the legislation. They include new requirements to:

  • Help ensure that sufficient water flows for fish and other wildlife are left in the ecosystem;
  • Reduce reliance on exports of fresh water from the Delta;
  • Require much greater water conservation; and
  • Develop good science on the state of California's underground water
  • reserves.

"No one got everything they wanted, but for the sake of our state's environmental and economic future, we all felt that we had an obligation to come together and keep working until we could reach an agreement," concluded Koehler. "That's what we have done."

Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) Executive Director Timothy Quinn issued the following statement regarding passage of the historic water legislation:

"At its core, this moves California from the extraction policies of the past to the sustainability policies of the future to protect the environment and the economy.

"This accomplishment is worth celebrating, but now the hard work begins. ACWA is committed to work with members to implement the co-equal goals of environmental restoration and water supply reliability.

ACWA is a statewide association of public agencies whose 450 members are responsible for about 90 percent of the water delivered in California.

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