Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.


Fate grim for water bond

Hank Shaw, Capital Press 9/22/08

Farmworkers, worried that recent water cutbacks will keep fields idle and put them out of work, wave placards pressing the point that agua es trabajo — water equals work — during a rally at the Capitol.
Several hundred farmworkers rode buses up to the Capitol from the southern San Joaquin Valley Aug. 13 to urge lawmakers to approve a ballot initiative that would borrow billions to build new dams in the Central Valley.

SACRAMENTO - Prospects look grim for a proposed November ballot measure that would ask Californians to borrow billions to build new water projects, despite the urging of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and several hundred San Joaquin Valley farmworkers on Wednesday, Aug. 13.

Most of the roadblocks that have stalled progress on a water bond for months remain in place. Although lawmakers and industry groups have been talking privately at the Capitol about a path to a new dam, one of the longest budget standoffs in state history has occupied the Legislature's leadership to the exclusion of all else.

Nevertheless, supporters made the rounds of the Capitol last week in an attempt to press the issue.

Feinstein flew in from Washington, D.C., to urge her fellow Democrats to do something. A day later the Latino Water Coalition sponsored a rally on the Capitol steps to urge lawmakers to hurry up and get a bond on the November ballot. Schwarzenegger spoke at the event.

"The farmworkers of this state are working very hard to feed this state, to feed this country and to feed the world and they are raising their families," the governor told the roughly 300 farmworkers who attended the rally. "But our water system has stopped working for you.

"Our water negotiations are bogged down with the budget stalemate and the clock is ticking... so I need your help and California needs your help. Make your voices be heard after you leave here today. Let your legislators know that we have no time to waste and you want action, not partisan gridlock."

The deadline to get a water bond on the November ballot has technically passed, but the Legislature has bent the rules before and could do it again should a compromise emerge.

That's not likely to happen, however. Opponents of new dams and their allies who control the Legislature note that the two proposed - Sites Reservoir in Colusa County and Temperance Flat near Fresno - would cost billions, yet do little to add to California's water supply.

This is true, but the water the new reservoirs would hold could prevent farmers and ranchers from losing their existing water supply, which is under threat for environmental reasons.

At issue is the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The ecosystem of the West's largest estuary is collapsing, in part because so much water is pumped out of it each year and much of that water goes to farms in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

Supporters say the new dams could act as catch basins upstream so that both the farmers and the delta can get the water they need.

State Sen. Michael Machado, D-Linden, has proposed this for Sites Reservoir. Under Machado's plan, taxpayers would pay for the reservoir and use it to keep cold, clean water flowing through the delta during dry periods.

This could allow the San Joaquin Valley farms that rely on delta water to continue to get some of what they had been receiving before a federal judge curtailed pumping earlier this year.

To the south, the San Joaquin River, which also empties into the delta, actually runs dry in places during summer and a king salmon run that had existed on the river has all but disappeared.

Building Temperance Flat could provide enough water to restore the salmon run - water the courts say must be released into the river - without crippling the farmers who currently rely on it.

But who would pay for the dams, how much would state taxpayers chip in and who would oversee how any money would be spent remain issues without clear resolution.

One telling indicator of where the talks are is this: None of the staffers who would write the language of a water bond have been told to do so.

That could change, but the Legislature's session ends Aug. 31, so there is little time for such complex legislation.

Hank Shaw is the California editor based in Sacramento. E-mail: hshaw@capitalpress.com.


Home Contact


              Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

             Copyright klamathbasincrisis.org, 2008, All Rights Reserved