Landmark water reform passes Calif. state legislature

A bill that reforms how California stores, delivers and manages its water supply passed the state legislature Wednesday. Legislators and industry observers call it the most significant reform passed by the state in at least 50 years.

At the heart of the legislation is how one of the state’s largest drinking water sources, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, is managed. The plan calls for a restoration of the collection of channels, natural habitats and islands found at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers.

Additional pieces of legislation outlined new statewide water conservation goals and set up a vote next year for residents to approve a $9.99 billion bond package that would pay for water-related projects. An additional $30 billion would be paid for by localities, mainly through user fees, plan architects said.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger urged the bill’s passage, calling water the “lifeblood” of California. He called the bill’s passage a historic achievement, thanking the efforts of Senate President Darrell Steinberg. “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.”

Richard Little, the director of the Keston Institute for Public Finance and Infrastructure Policyat the University of Southern California, agreed, telling the New York Times, “This is the most comprehensive water resources action that California has taken since the state water project in the ’60s…for the first time, they are tying ecosystem enhancement and environmental restoration directly to the infrastructure.”

Despite some ranker among Democrats and Republicans in the California state Assembly, the legislation passed with significant margins, especially given the body’s track record.

“Our state is dying a slow death from dehydration,” State Sen. Abel Maldonado, told the Sacramento Bee. “This isn’t about Democrats and it isn’t about Republicans, and this isn’t about the northern part of California or the southern part. This is about the people of California who need water. And that’s everybody.”