Editorial: New $7.545 billion water bond deserves thumbs up in votes tonight

08/13/2014 4:24 PM

08/14/2014 12:14 PM

Gov. Jerry Brown and most legislative leaders agreed on a $7.545 billion water bond early today, and Democratic and Republican lawmakers should give voters a chance to decide its fate.

The final bond is bigger than the $6 billion Brown initially proposed. But it is pared back from the $11 billion that was fashioned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 and otherwise would appear on the November ballot. Brown has said he would oppose it, all but ensuring that it would fail.

The new bond would include $400 million unspent from past water bonds, so the bonded indebtedness would be roughly $7.1 billion if lawmakers and voters approve it.

The final measure headed for a vote this afternoon and evening includes several sweeteners intended to attract legislative support.

Most notably, the bond would include $2.7 billion for new water storage, a bump up of $200 million from an earlier proposal. The $2.7 billion could be spent on dams and reservoirs, or on storage in aquifers.

Republicans had sought $3 billion. But they ought to settle on the lesser number. The deal won’t get better.

In the final negotiations, completed before dawn today, Democrats received an additional $150 million for their priorities. There is, for example, more money to restore coastal watersheds, which is intended to attract support from lawmakers who represent the Central Coast.

The bill includes money for restoration of urban rivers in San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties, and there is money for recycling, which is viewed as important to San Diego, and to clean polluted groundwater in the Los Angeles area.

Importantly, Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, taking the lead for Delta interests, is the lead author of the Senate version of the bill, SB 866.

She had insisted that the bond include no money that could be perceived as helping bring about the twin tunnel project that Brown supports. Wolk appears to have succeeded.

The bill’s supporters include business groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce, major farm organizations and many environmentalist organizations. Some moneyed interests and some environmentalists will oppose the bond. The issue does, after all, involve water.

But California’s three-year-long drought makes clear to the rest of us what experts long have been saying. California’s water system is in need of an overhaul. Republican and Democratic legislators’ support tonight is key to that process.

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