Finding adequate water supplies is a constant challenge. We need to balance the needs of agriculture, manufacturing, residents, and the environment. And that may require building new dams and reservoirs. And it may require mandatory water conservation. Neither is ideal and neither comes without sacrifices.

A federal judge ruled in August that current pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta violates federal law by threatening an endangered fish called the “Smelt.” To alleviate the problem, water delivered to Southern California may be cut as much as 30 percent. This reduction takes effect Jan. 1, 2008.

Now, let’s look at how the state is responding to the situation. Two competing proposals were offered: one by the governor and one by the Democrats. Both were considered and voted on in the Senate last week.

The Democrats proposed a $6.8 billion bond that would provide immediate steps to ensure our state’s water supply. It would provide funds for water supply reliability, conservation, pollution clean-up, flood and groundwater protection, improvements to the Delta, and water recycling.

It would also create a competitive grant program for local projects. Eligible grants would include local surface water storage and groundwater projects; urban water and agricultural water use efficiency projects; and recycling, reclamation and desalination projects. Every region of the state would benefit from these grants.

Unfortunately, the bill fell four votes shy of receiving the two-thirds majority required to put it on the February 2008 ballot. It did not receive a single Republican vote.

Meanwhile, the governor proposed a $9.1 billion bond that would earmark more than half of the money for three dams. The funds would build two new dams and expand an existing dam.

I opposed that plan because these dams would cost billions of dollars more, deliver much less water, take several years longer to implement, and would be environmentally damaging. It is estimated that each dam would take up to at least a decade to build. But we can’t wait that long. We can’t risk our state’s economic well-being on grandiose projects, when we could be doing more to encourage water conservation. The governor’s bill ultimately failed in the Senate.

I am hopeful that a solution to this impasse can still be reached. There are two methods for bringing funding issues to the ballot. They can be passed by the Legislature or, individuals may gather the necessary 434,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot. At the earliest, those measures would appear on the June 2008 election. But a more likely schedule is the November 2008 ballot.

We’ll see where this ends up in the coming months. Until my next post, I look forward to hearing your comments.

— CHRISTINE KEHOE

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