In the midst of California’s historic drought -- as well as litigation regarding a tiny fish -- lawmakers are putting their heads together to secure SoCal’s water supply.
A federal appeals court on Thursday afternoon upheld a decision to limit the distribution of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Southern California.
The vast river delta provides more than 20 million domestic and agricultural consumers in Central and Southern California with about 70 percent of its supply.
But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services opined that continued operations would threaten a population of smelt, small fish that live in the delta.
The Natural Resources Defense Council came to the fish’s aid. Thursday’s decision not only helped the fish, but it also pointed to a bigger problem: California’s old standbys for water can no longer be counted on.
“Protections are necessary for the health and well-being of the delta,” said Steve Fleischli, NRDC’s senior attorney and director of its water program. “It’s really important California think more seriously about sustainable water management.”
Coincidentally, an assembly met Friday afternoon in Monterey Park to discuss a water bond that would affect the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles County Basin.
Although there’s no nexus between Thursday’s decision and the proposed bond, Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, said lawmakers are trying to focus on “local situations,” such as groundwater cleanup, maintaining aquifers in communities and focusing on recycling, to prepare for future water scarcity.
The bond (AB 1331), which was introduced by Rendon, will cost $8 billion. And in November, voters could be asked to approve it.
The bond includes:
- $1 billion for improving drinking water quality
- $1.5 billion for protecting rivers and watersheds
- $2 billion for regional water management to improve water delivery and reduce the impact of climate change on water supplies
- $1 billion for protecting the California Delta
- $2.5 billion for water storage
“The timing is right, I think, in light of the drought condition,” said Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, with regard to the bond.
Also on the table is the governor’s plan for the delta, which calls for new tunnels to tap water.
Backers of the governor’s plan said the tunnels are still viable even after Thursday’s delta smelt court ruling. But defenders of the delta and its occupants have posited alternate options.
“There’s no question California can do a lot more to use water more efficiently,” Fleischli said, noting that roughly $6 billion could be saved if one pipe was built instead of two, for example.
California voters, however, have not passed a water bond since 2006.
A similar $11 billion water bond was proposed in 2009, but it was kept off the ballot because lawmakers thought voters would likely vote it down.
AB 1331, titled “The Clean and Safe Drinking Water Act of 2014,” as currently proposed, repeals the 2009 bond.
The next hearing for the new bond will be in Modesto on April 16.