Sacramento Bee Viewpoints: $11 billion water bond should be repealed

by coalitionadmin on March 15, 2012

Viewpoints: $11 billion water bond should be repealed

Special to The Bee
Published Friday, Feb. 17, 2012
Click here to read online.

The Bee’s Feb. 5 editorial, “Water bond will sink if it stays bloated,” was accurate when it described the $11.14 billion water bond as an albatross that voters need to put out of its misery. But there’s an even more efficient and practical course of action that would save taxpayers money and legislators embarrassment when the initiative fails miserably: legislative repeal of the bond before November.

If you are a shipbuilder and you know your boat will sink as soon as it disembarks, would you let it set sail? Of course not. But instead of admitting that the water bond has been built to fail, Gov. Jerry Brown and some legislators would prefer to delay it instead of scrapping it once and for all and going back to the drawing board to develop sound state water policy.

We’ve been led to believe that the water bond will provide the funding necessary to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and to ensure water supply reliability for Southern California, but the truth is that two of the nation’s biggest and most powerful agriculture operations stand to benefit most. Westlands Water District and Paramount Farms, both in the arid southwest corner of the Central Valley, were key players in drafting and lobbying for this water bond that would cost taxpayers $22 billion with interest over time. Combined, they hold more than 800,000 acres of land and seek the delivery of more than 1 million acre-feet of water from the Delta which, for perspective, is more water than San Francisco and Los Angeles combined use each year.

These corporate agribusinesses are more than happy to perpetuate the long-held public belief that most of the water pumped from the Delta goes to filling swimming pools and watering lawns in Southern California, but the truth is that nearly half of the water exported from the Delta goes to these millionaire-owned mega-farms who often sell it to real estate developers for big profits.

Thanks to water conservation and efficiency, Southern California cities are using much less water than ever before. Orange County has one of the largest water recycling plants in the nation, and per capita water use in Los Angeles has dropped 15 percent since 1970.

But we can’t talk about the water bond without addressing the giant elephant in the room – Brown’s lifelong dream to build a massive conveyance to siphon off water from the mighty Sacramento River and its tributaries and send it south. Known as the peripheral canal during Brown’s first round as governor, California voters overwhelmingly rejected it in 1982 because of its costs and environmental consequences. Now, 30 years later, the canal plan has morphed into a tunnel, but it’s still a terrible idea.

The water bond sets aside $2.25 billion to offset for the environmental damage that the construction of this massive tunnel would cause. It’s not thirsty residents Brown’s tunnel will benefit, but business interests like billionaire farmer Stewart Resnick who, coincidentally, has donated tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Brown as well as state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, and to Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was governor – all of whom support the water bond.

A tunnel diverting the fresh water of the Sacramento River could be the final blow to the ecosystem of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the largest estuary on America’s West Coast. California’s wild salmon populations, already threatened, could be decimated as they rely upon a healthy mixture of fresh and salt water.

In addition, diversion of the Delta’s primary fresh water supply, the Sacramento River, would harm the Delta’s $4.5 billion annual agricultural economy – an economy primarily made up of family farms.

This monstrosity of a bond will wreak havoc on California’s already dire financial situation and force even more cuts to our public schools and to essential public services such as health care and safety. California, already facing a budget deficit of $9.2 billion to $13 billion, is still paying off massive debts from previous bond measures that continue to suck money away from these vital services.

It’s time for the governor and our state legislators to side with the people. California needs to make real investments in helping our cities pay for badly needed upgrades to our aging pipes and water treatment plants, not provide massive amounts of water to corporate agribusiness at taxpayer-subsidized rates for their own personal profit. Fixing and replacing this infrastructure with sound projects would create jobs and clean up our waterways. Let’s repeal this pork-filled bond and start working on real solutions to provide clean, reliable water to all Californians.

Adam Scow, is California campaigns director for Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla is the campaign director for Restore the Delta, a coalition of Delta residents and environmental groups.

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