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Water policy a 'dam' shame
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It's a dam shame that the water package doesn't address the current crisis of breadlines and devastating unemployment. It's a dam shame the water bond does nothing to guarantee water for next year so that farmers can plant crops and put people back to work.

It's a dam shame that we have one shot to get a water bond passed while the state is focused on this issue, but what we got is a bloated $11.14 billion bond instead of a straightforward $3 billion surface water storage bond.

It's a dam shame that the state could be issuing IOUs come Christmas and voters will likely reject the "Christmas tree" water bond as the state faces a $20 billion-plus deficit next year.

The four bills and one bond measure that comprise the water package don't really address the biggest cause of the water crisis: a lack of facilities (dams and reservoirs) to store all the rain and snow melt that California receives during wet winter and spring seasons, so we will have that water for the needs of people, agriculture and commerce during the dry summer and fall seasons.

What this water package does do is:

• Dole out billions of your tax dollars to increase the budgets and spending of dozens and dozens of existing state and local agencies - many of them environmentally oriented agencies engaged in activities that won't produce any new surface water storage facilities and won't make even one new drop of water available;

• Create or expand massive government bureaucracies with lofty sounding names such as the Delta Protection Commission, the Delta Conservancy, the Delta Stewardship Council, the Delta Independent Science Board and the Delta Watermaster; and

• Establish a confusing and complex set of new regulations dealing with water monitoring, water conservation and water rights by basically gutting local control and putting the decisions (including the authority to issue fines and take away water rights) in the hands of statewide bureaucrats.

What the water package doesn't do is actually require that any money ever be spent towards building a dam at Temperance Flat in Madera and Fresno counties or a reservoir at Sites in Colusa County. At least one of these two water facilities needs to be constructed to produce any real tangible surface water storage for California, yet neither of these is even mentioned in the water bond.

The $3 billion 'set aside' for water storage in the bond might be spent for water storage or then again it might not. A surface water project proposal (such as Temperance Flat or Sites) will have to get through a complex set of subjective criteria and requirements to perhaps become eligible for consideration of funding by an inactive state agency called the California Water Commission (CWC).

The CWC was first established in 1913 to rule on water rights in California. Under the law, its members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. However, for the last few years, the CWC has no members, no website and no office. It is a phantom agency.

What this means is that we have no idea who will be on the CWC when and if the bond part of the water package is approved by the voters. Will the CWC have members on it appointed by current Governor Schwarzenegger by then? Will the new governor who is elected next year come in and fire anyone there and appoint new people to the CWC?

A little scary history is in order here. In 1975, Jerry Brown was sworn in as governor and 16 years of solid and consistent building and improvement of California's highway systems by governors Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan quickly came to a halt. In 1976, Governor Brown appointed his UC Berkeley classmate, Andriana Gianturco, as Director of Caltrans. Under his orders - and contrary to state law - the directives of the Legislature and the will of the people, she slammed the brakes on virtually all freeway construction for the next several years. Our state's infrastructure has never caught up since.

It's not hard to imagine a future governor appointing people to the California Water Commission with explicit instructions to not approve spending any of the $3 billion in the bond on dams or reservoirs. By not explicitly naming dams or reservoirs in the bond, the Legislature has left many loopholes open for dam opponents to block and stall the spending of the $3 billion on a dam. Further, the bond language allows the Legislature, by a two-thirds vote, to go back and "redirect" that money if it is not being used for a dam or reservoir, to some other use.

Something else to think about: the four regulatory measures in the water package will go into effect whether or not the water bond is approved by the voters next year. Nothing like getting struck with the stick while never getting to enjoy the carrot. This extortion attempt could backfire on the water package apologists as voters showed last year they won't be blackmailed.

While the water package will be a boon to those favoring the needs of fish over people, it will be paid for by all of us and our children and grandchildren for years to come and will do very little to actually help California's overall water situation, and that's a dam shame.

Denham represents the 12th Senate District.