SACRAMENTO -- California legislators began a faltering final push Monday evening on an ambitious plan to reform how the state stores, delivers and manages its water.
Votes were scheduled in the Assembly and Senate on a raft of bills containing elements as disparate as potential new dams, a canal to move water south through or around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and stricter conservation standards.
The effort includes asking voters next year to approve $9.99 billion in bonds to pay for it all.
But last-minute changes in the package, designed to placate special interests with a stake in it, left its future uncertain. None of the pieces had been dealt with by late evening, despite fears by supporters that the longer the plan languished, the more likely it was to fall apart.
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"I'm not going to rush this," insisted Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "If we don't get it done tonight, we'll come back tomorrow."
Steinberg's statement was echoed by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, a key player in crafting the plan.
"The only urgency is that we all came here to get something done, so we want to see if we can," Huffman said, "but I don't think anyone wants to do an all-nighter if we don't need to. We got two houses, two parties; we got a lot of moving parts."
The difficulty of reaching consensus on an issue that fractures along geographic, social and economic lines as well as partisan differences was illustrated by the day's first legislative exercise.
When majority Democrats in the Senate tried to convene a subcommittee to hear, but not vote on, changes in the bond proposal, Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, vociferously objected. Cox argued that there was no such subcommittee and that it was against the rules to convene one without following proper, and protracted, procedure.
Thirty minutes of debate later, the three-member panel was created anyway. It proceeded to hear how what had been a $9.4 billion bond proposal last week had become a $9.99 billion proposal this week.
"Our goal has always been to keep it under $10 billion," deadpanned Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, the bond's sponsor.
Cogdill explained that the extra money was put in to finance more drought relief, conservation efforts, waste-water management and water storage.
Left unsaid was that the changes reduced funds for some areas of the state -- the north and central coasts, mountain counties and the Colorado River basin -- and increased amounts to more populated areas such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Orange County.
The additional money was not enough to placate a swarm of opponents to the bond, who ranged from government unions that fear more bond debt will result in more layoffs or extended pay freezes, to environmental groups that contend the plan doesn't sufficiently safeguard fisheries and the delta's eco-system.
That opposition was joined Monday by the city of Sacramento. In a letter to Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, city water officials said the package of bills did not do enough to protect the city's rights to Sacramento River water.
"The conservation bill would require the fully self-sufficient Sacramento region to implement conservation measures that are not cost- effective, while allowing regions that depend on delta exports to reduce their current use by only 5 percent," wrote utilities director Marty Hanneman.
Sacramento and Yolo counties are on record as opposing the bills.
Lawmakers are considering the complex water fixes in a special session, the third one called this fall by Gov. Schwarzenegger. A bipartisan agreement on how to upgrade California's water supply and delivery system would be a major victory for Schwarzenegger, who has been pressing lawmakers to focus on the issue.
Anticipating a drawn-out session, Schwarzenegger rescheduled his appearance tonight on "The Jay Leno Show" to complete the water deal, said spokesman Aaron McLear.
The Legislature's nonpartisan analyst's office said the bond's cost could force the state to spend 10 percent of its revenue each year to pay off debt.
Placing the bond measure on a 2010 ballot requires a two-thirds vote in the Democrat-controlled Legislature and thus will need some support from Republicans, who are likely to withhold their votes until the legislation is shaped to their liking.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.