California has water issues. Let’s start with the fact that most of the population lives in the south and most of the rain falls in the north. Add in the nation’s richest agricultural region in the middle, and you’ve got a recipe for water battles. Most recently, the state government has been trying to pass water bond legislation for new dams and restoration of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (the Delta), the source of the controversial State Water Project which delivers water from NorCal to SoCal. The price tag of the bond is some $11 billion, making it larger than all previous water bonds, even the one that established the State Water Project 50 years ago.
Although the water bond has bipartisan support, it is actually opposed by groups on both ends of the political spectrum. It’s a huge bill, which required tons of earmarks to acquire that bipartisan support. For example, it attempts to compromise between building large dams and employing groundwater storage, though in my technical opinion, the era for building large dams has passed. If the bill funds both types of projects, I would call that compromise by throwing more money at the problem…
Notably, the bill took a 2/3rds majority to pass in 2009, so that it could be put to a voter referendum in 2010. But it was postponed to 2012, in its original form, while the problems it was meant to address continued evolving and the politicians that wrote the bill and required its earmarks left office. The legislature just postponed the bond another 2 years so that the Governor’s own tax and bond ballot initiative can take priority this fall (who would vote for two giant bonds for an already bankrupt state??).
At this point, I have to wonder if California has any hope of passing serious water legislation. If the legislators had 2/3rds on board to send the bond to the ballot, why couldn’t they just vote on it themselves back in 2009? I’m betting 2/3rds did not want to stick their necks out on this controversial issue. Who thought voter initiatives were a good idea? They give the legislature the ability to punt issues to the less-well-informed public…and in the case of water, we need people who can get things done. This is where democracy isn’t pretty.