SACRAMENTO -- The Valley's largest farm district and several environmental groups Monday said they support key elements of water legislation under negotiation in the Capitol. But the compromise is not good enough for Republican leaders, who said they still have "grave concerns" that the proposals would "create new layers of bureaucracy."
The pact between Westlands Water District and key environmental groups comes after weeks of closed-door negotiations over new policies to mandate conservation, track ground-water levels and create agencies to oversee the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California also signed off.
Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, cited the agreement as major progress and called for a vote this week on a larger water deal, which would also include a bond to pay for projects.
"We have narrowed the differences in ways that now we think are creating a momentum that did not exist six weeks ago," he said.
But GOP leaders said they still have issues with the conservation and ground-water rules.
"After weeks and weeks and weeks of discussion, to find that our concerns evidently were not taken seriously is disappointing," said Assembly GOP Leader Sam Blakeslee. Republicans have "grave concerns whether or not this actually solves the water problem."
One GOP fear is that new conservation requirements would lead to lawsuits against urban water agencies that don't meet the targets. Environmentalists counter that Republicans are seeking to undermine existing laws that protect against the "waste and unreasonable use" of water.
Another flashpoint is the size and scope of a bond to pay for dams and other projects. Lawmakers must give out enough money to please varied water interests but are contending with criticism that the financially strapped state cannot afford new borrowing. Details have not been made public, but the latest bond proposal is in the range of $9 billion.
The Westlands and Metropolitan districts -- which both import large amounts of delta water -- gave their support for the policy changes at a legislative hearing on the bill. Westlands lobbyist Ed Manning said the district's biggest demand was met: that a proposed council to oversee the delta would not slow planning for a canal to move water around the estuary, also known as "conveyance."
Westlands' deliveries have been curtailed because the water is now pumped through the delta and courts have found that the system hurts fish.
Under the compromise, a new delta council would incorporate the canal into its long-range plans only if it meets environmental standards and is approved by an ongoing effort called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
"The benefit for the [Valley's] west side is that there will be a clear path to conveyance," Manning said.
Coalitions representing delta residents who oppose the canal remain steadfastly opposed to the bill. Environmental groups supporting the bill include the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund.