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Governor's $6 billion water plan is welcomed by farmers, water officials

Bob Krauter Capital Press California Editor 1/10/07

SACRAMENTO - California farm and water groups are pleased with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's resolution for 2007 to push a $6 billion water works plan that includes two new reservoirs. Schwarzenegger revealed a $29.4 billion bond package Tuesday during his state of the state address.

"We are a big state and we have big needs," Schwarzenegger said. "And we have made a big down payment. But the job is not finished."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a $6 billion water plan, which includes a $4.5 billion bond he hopes voters will approve in 2008. The plan includes building two new reservoirs --- the Sites Reservoir north of Sacramento, and the Temperance Flat Reservoir near Fresno.


The governor successfully championed a massive $37.3 billion infrastructure plan on the November ballot to improve roads, schools and flood control. Now he wants voters to approve $4.5 billion for water storage by building the Temperance Flat Reservoir on the San Joaquin River near Fresno and the Sites Reservoir, about 60 miles north of Sacramento, would divert water from the Sacramento River.

Louie Brown Jr., partner in the Sacramento firm of Kahn, Soares and Conway, welcomed the governor's emphasis on water storage.

"He is making it out to be the part of the infrastructure debate that was left on the table," Brown said. "If you are really going to move forward and rebuild California like he has been talking about, you can't make all of the improvements that the voters have said they want to make without at least addressing the water issue."

Two bonds on the 2008 ballot would pay for the reservoirs, with $2 billion to be repaid by contractors who would use the water. Another $2 billion would be funded by taxpayers for the dams, while $500 million would go to groundwater storage.

Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League, said the plan recognizes long overdue action to alleviate pressure on the state's water supplies from a growing population.

"When you look at the growth of the population and its needs -- not only from agriculture but for the citizens of the state, it is logical to say that we need to look at all of the alternatives -- surface water storage as well as conservation and underground water storage," Bedwell said. "The governor, in particular, has identified surface water storage and I think that is good news for everybody in the state."

Lester Snow, the director of the state Department of Water Resources, suggested that additional storage is needed to address concerns about climate change. Snow said the state's snowpack could decrease by 25 percent by 2050 and that more reservoirs are needed to boost supply.

"The issue is securing our water future," Snow said in reaction to Schwarzenegger's plan. "We hope to have a genuine discussion. The runoff pattern isn't going to be different in the future. It's different now."

Bedwell said climate change concerns add another reason to pursue new storage.

"I have heard that there could be between 4 and 5 million acre-feet per year lost if we don't have adequate storage to capture that runoff," Bedwell said. "It really brings new dimension to the issue."

Sarah Woolf, spokesperson for Westlands Water District in Fresno, said it has been more than 30 years since the last major water development project was built.

"Everyone has been talking abut the need for water development for far too long and we need additional water supply," Woolf said. "It is one thing to get people to talk about it and now we need to take some action on it. We are very much in support of anything he can do in regards to water development."

Also included in the water package are smaller amounts of money for conservation programs and restoration efforts on the Klamath, San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers, as well as at the Salton Sea in the Southern California desert.

While farmers, water officials and farm-friendly legislators are warm to the water plan, the governor's proposal may be a tough sell to Democrats who resisted a similar proposal last year.

Luis Brown said the next few months will reveal if the governor's centrist, bipartisan approach in his second term will yield new water.

"Right now, I think there is a possibility that we will see something done this year," Brown said. "How that is negotiated and what we have to give up will be something that we will focus on and probably be faced with some tough decisions sometime in the middle of this year."

Brown referred to how the governor and state legislators will close a $5.5 billion state budget deficit. Schwarzenegger releases his proposed 2007 budget today.


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