California Voters to Decide $7.5 Billion Water Plan in November

California voters this November will decide whether to approve the sale of $7.5 billion in bonds to fund water projects in the drought-afflicted state, after the Legislature last month passed and Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a spending package now headed to the ballot.

Brown and Democratic leaders made a few late changes to bring Republicans on board, including increased funding for water storage projects. The state Senate approved the emergency measure 37-0. The state Assembly voted 77-2. Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R), who is running for governor against Brown, was one of those opposing. The bill needed a two-thirds vote to move it to the ballot.

?Water is the lifeblood of any civilization, and for California, it?s the precondition of healthy rivers, valleys, farms and a strong economy,? Gov. Brown told reporters after signing the bill. ?With this water bond, legislators from both parties have affirmed their faith in California?s future.?

The Legislature approved $7.12 billion in new spending. There also will be $425 million in repurposed, previously approved but unspent bond funds for total allocations of $7.5 billion. The package includes $1.495 billion for watershed restoration, $900 million for clean groundwater projects, $810 million for water reliability, $725 million for water recycling, $520 million for safe drinking water efforts and $395 million for flood management.

The measure will be deemed Proposition 1 and will replace Proposition 43, an $11.1 billion referendum that had been slated for a November vote. The larger one was crafted in the 2009-10 Legislature, and was delayed from the 2010 ballot and then again from 2012.

Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Calif.), the outgoing Senate leader, said that with passage of the new measure in the Legislature, work is just beginning as the state?s population is growing while water resources are diminishing.

We have to pass this bond in November,? Steinberg said. ?Otherwise, this work is for naught. The need is so great in California. Sixty percent of the people suffering from drought conditions, there?s no better time, and there?s certainly no time to say let?s do this another time. Some painted passage of the measure in historic terms.

GOP Agrees After $700 Million for Storage Added

Republicans agreed to back the new package after Brown consented to raise funding for water storage projects to $2.7 billion, according to Peter DeMarco, spokesman for the Republican caucus and Senate GOP Leader Bob Huff. Storage had earlier been set at $2 billion, and then was increased to $2.5 billion, then finally $2.7 billion. The money is needed for desired reservoirs, DeMarco said.

The $7.5 billion was less than the $8.7 billion total measure that Republicans had initially introduced, and an earlier package had $3 billion allocated for storage. Brown, in contrast, had urged a $6 billion ?no frills? water spending package.

Asked if it was unusual to have Republicans wanting more spending than the Democratic governor, DeMarco said the GOP package was less than what Democrats in the Legislature originally had sought five years ago. ?Their demands for their pork spending and their projects, that bond became $11 billion,? he said.

Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway said that the vote followed ?nearly a decade of complex and often-difficult negotiations? among many groups. ?We successfully fought back against efforts to shortchange funding for critical water storage projects,? she said. ?If Republicans had not stood firm in fighting for more storage, this funding would likely have never materialized, and we would be faced with more Band-Aid fixes to our severe droughts.?

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