Part of the Bay Area News Group

Archive for the 'water' Category

House Democrats want water deal rescinded

Five Northern California House Democrats demanded answers Monday from the Interior Department on the Bay-Delta planning process, urging the department to rescind a “flawed” deal developed behind closed doors.

That memorandum of agreement, they say, gives water export agencies south of the Delta and in Southern California unprecedented influence over a public process affecting California’s fresh water supplies.

Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez; Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena; and Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking that the agreement his department made with the water agencies be withdrawn and the process be opened up to include other key stakeholders left out of the discussions, including Bay Area, Delta and coastal communities, farmers, businesses, and fishermen.

“Interior should immediately rescind this flawed MOA and work instead to establish a successful BDCP (Bay-Delta Conservation Plan) process that is transparent and based on parity, and that genuinely puts the restoration of the Bay-Delta and its fisheries, the needs of local communities, and the quality of local water resources on par with other water supply goals,” the lawmakers wrote.

They claim the agreement includes an unreasonable timeline and raises expectations of favorable treatment for the water agencies that signed it.

The agencies’ desired policies “have the potential to harm the Bay-Delta, fishing communities, local farmers, and our constituents more broadly,” the lawmakers wrote. “They compromise Interior’s ability to exercise its mandates to restore the Bay-Delta ecosystem and California’s fisheries, and to consider the interests of all stakeholder groups. And they were developed in closed-door negotiations with the water export contractors that excluded all other interests.”

The lawmakers met repeatedly recently with Interior Department and California officials to express their concerns about the agreement signed with water export agencies, and the department had told them to expect an answer to their inquiries early last week. None came, and today’s letter demands a written response from Salazar by next Monday.

Interior Department press secretary Adam Fetcher said the letter was received and the department will respond directly to the House members.

“Secretary Salazar has been clear that California’s complex water problems require science-based solutions developed as part of a close partnership between the federal and state government, as well as all key stakeholders,” he said. “Transparency and accessibility for all parties in this process is a key part of our efforts to move forward with the BDCP as quickly as possible in order to address the all-important goals of a healthy Bay Delta ecosystem and a reliable water supply for California.”

Posted on Monday, October 24th, 2011
Under: George Miller, Jerry McNerney, John Garamendi, U.S. House, water | No Comments »

California has a lot of water – for now

California may be dangerously low on money, but at least it has water – for now.

As was expected, Gov. Jerry Brown today proclaimed an end to the state’s drought after big increases in statewide rainfall and mountain snowpack. He urged Californians, however, to keep conserving water.

“While this season’s storms have lifted us out of the drought, it’s critical that Californians continue to watch their water use,” Brown said in a news release. “Drought or no drought, demand for water in California always outstrips supply. Continued conservation is key.”

Brown’s proclamation followed the Department of Water Resources’ fourth snow survey of the season, which found that water content in California’s mountain snowpack is 165 percent of the April 1 full season average.

Most of California’s major reservoirs are also above normal storage levels. Butte County’s Lake Oroville – the State Water Project’s principal reservoir – is at 104 percent of average for the date, or about 80 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity. And Lake Shasta north of Redding – the federal Central Valley Project’s largest reservoir – is at 111 percent of average for the date, or about 91 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity.

DWR estimates it will be able to deliver 70 percent of requested State Water Project water this year, an estimate that probably will be adjusted upward as hydrologists make adjustments later for snowpack and runoff readings.

California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said that by some measures, California’s drought never really ends.

“Even with all this rain and snow, farmers in parts of the Central Valley still face water shortages because of conflicts over endangered species fish protection and other restrictions,” Wenger said in a news release. “The federal Central Valley Project is offering only two-thirds of contract supplies this year to many of its farm customers, and supplies from the State Water Project will be only slightly better. In Southern California, soaring water prices force farmers to cut down productive avocado trees. Farmers have made significant improvement in water efficiency—producing ‘more crop per drop’—and that will continue. But continued shortages force many farmers into tough decisions about whether they can sustain their crops and their businesses.”

Wenger said much of the water swelling California rivers and streams this spring represents “a lost opportunity.”

“All of us will wish we had that water available when we have our next dry winter. That could be next year, or the year after, but we know drought will come again, probably soon,” he said. “California needs more reservoirs to capture more of these flood flows when they occur, so we can both lessen the chances for catastrophic floods and bank that water for the dry years we know will come.”

To that end, he urged Brown to push for passage of the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2012, an $11.14 billion bond ballot measure to bankroll an overhaul of the state’s water system. Big farm groups and some labor unions representing construction workers support the measure, while some lawmakers say its weighted down with pork-barrel spending and many environmentalists object to agricultural water subsidies, water privatization, dam construction and insufficient emphasis on conservation and recycling.

Read Brown’s proclamation, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, March 30th, 2011
Under: Jerry Brown, water | No Comments »

Senate OKs water safety bill with East Bay roots

The U.S. Senate yesterday unanimously passed a bipartisan bill that strengthens and clarifies standards to protect people from toxic lead in drinking water by reducing the allowable lead content in drinking water pipes, pipe fittings and plumbing fixtures.

Though authored in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and in the House by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, these new national standards arguably got their start right here in the East Bay. The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) sponsored identical legislation for California, enacted in 2006, and was among the many sponsors of this federal legislation as well.

EBMUD Governmental Affairs Manager and Special Assistant to the General Manager Randy Kanouse sent a memo to agency staffers yesterday congratulating them on the bill’s passage. “Generations of future children will lead healthier lives because of the foresight and the leadership of the East Bay Municipal Utility District Board of Directors,” he wrote.

“I am so pleased that the Senate has acted to pass this important piece of bipartisan legislation today that will help protect our children and families from dangerous lead,” Boxer, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a news release.

The Senate bill was cosponsored by U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking Republican on Boxer’s committee.

“It isn’t often that Senator Boxer and I agree on legislation,” said Inhofe, a renowned global warming skeptic who once said it’s “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” while Boxer has toiled constantly to curb it. “Yet in this case, we did. Here is an opportunity to pass a bill that will help further decrease the amount of lead in water without imposing a burden on America’s manufacturers.”

Lead can harm the nervous system and brain development, and is especially dangerous for pregnant women, infants and children. Current federal law allows plumbing fixtures that carry drinking water to have as much as 8 percent lead; this new bill says the wetted surface of such plumbing can’t contain more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent lead.

S. 3874 now goes to the House for consideration.

“In 21st century America, we have a responsibility to do more to protect our children and families against the lead exposure acquired through plumbing systems. Lead-free plumbing is an existing alternative, it’s affordable, and it’s time we adopt it across the nation,” Eshoo said yesterday. “California recognized the hazard lead poses and in 2006 enacted the toughest lead content standard for drinking water faucets, fittings, and plumbing systems anywhere in the world. This bill will eliminate the threat of lead in faucets and fixtures across the country.”

UPDATE @ 2:12 P.M.: The House has passed the bill on a 226-109 vote, sending it to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Posted on Friday, December 17th, 2010
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Boxer, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, water | No Comments »

Contra Costa Council hosts water forum

The Contra Costa Council hosted today a water panel, featuring some of the state’s foremost voices in California’s effort to implement sweeping water legislation adopted last year.

Watch video of the hour-long discussion below. The panelists presented mostly a status report of where the implementation process sits and an outline of the key issues.

Panelists include California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Lester Snow, Delta Stewardship Council Chairman Phil Isenberg, Delta Protection Commission Executive Director Linda Fiack and Contra Costa Supervisor and Delta Protection Commission member Mary Nejedly Piepho.

Posted on Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
Under: Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, Contra Costa County, water | No Comments »

Voters will ‘flush’ water bond, says pollster

Only one-third of voters would support the much-touted $11.1 billion water bond headed for the November ballot, according to a pollster.

Keep in mind pollster, Ben Tulchin, was commissioned by opponents.

But the paltry number does not bode well for the bond, which state legislators hammered out as part of a hard-fought deal. A successful bond usually polls high — 65 to 70 percent favorable — in the early stages. The higher figure acts as a buffer after opponents launch their campaign and voter support declines.

Not so fast, countered proponents of the bond a few minutes after I posted this entry.

“The poll results quoted by opponents in their press release are based on one question from a longer poll, with no information about prior questions which could have tainted the results. Their results are very different from our own internal polling,” said Jim Earp, Executive Director of the California Alliance for Jobs and co-chair of the Alliance for Clean Water and Jobs.  “Our polling shows we have a close race at the present time, that voters understand our state faces major water challenges, and that voters will support the bond once they hear the facts. We already have a very broad coalition behind the measure and we will wage a strong campaign over the next eight months to achieve victory in November.

We’ll see.

Read on for the full text of the opponents; press release:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, February 18th, 2010
Under: 2010 election, water | 2 Comments »

House members blast DiFi on water plan

Four Bay Area House members are among 11 who wrote to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., today to complain about her water proposal, which they say would lead to the extinction of Sacramento River salmon along with tens of thousands of jobs in California and along the Pacific Coast that depend on the fishery’s survival.

The lawmakers’ letter urges Feinstein to cancel her plan to introduce legislation to speed more water withdrawals out of the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem.

Chinook_Salmon“Salmon may not have high paid lobbyists like the corporate agricultural interests in the Central Valley, but they are critical to our coastal economy,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, who was among the letter’s signatories. “The Feinstein plan will put thousands of families out of work from the fishing industry and local economies of the Pacific Coast.”

Salmon runs of the Sacramento River and other Northern California river systems have suffered in recent years, leading to unprecedented closures of the fishing season with significant effects on the fishing industry and related businesses across the West Coast, according to Miller’s release. Estimates of the job losses from the salmon fishery closure range as high as 23,000.

Feinstein proposes to override salmon protections, requiring the export pumps in the southern Bay-Delta to run at higher speed regardless of their effect on the salmon population.

The letter’s other signatories include Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.

In other water news, groups opposing the $11.1 billion water bond that the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have put on November’s ballot are touting poll results indicating most voters oppose it, too.

Pollsters from Jan. 20 through 25 posed this question to 600 likely voters across the state:

Now I would like to ask you about a ballot measure on November’s ballot. The measure is titled, “Safe, clean, and reliable drinking water supply act of 2010” and reads as follows: To protect water quality and ensure safe, clean drinking water; meet the water supply needs of California residents, farms, businesses, expand water conservation
and recycling; restore fish and wildlife habitat; reduce polluted runoff that contaminates rivers, streams, beaches, and bays; and protect the safety of water supplies threatened by earthquakes and other natural disasters; the State of California shall issue bonds totaling eleven billion one hundred forty million dollars ($11,140,000) paid from existing state funds subject to independent, annual audits, and citizen oversight. The fiscal impact would cost the state about 22 billion dollars over 30 years to pay off the 11 billion dollars in principal and 11 billion in interest costs of the bonds with payments of 800 million dollars a year.

Would you vote “Yes” in favor of the measure or “No” against it if the election were held today?

The poll found only about a third (34 percent) of likely voters support the measure, while 55 percent oppose it – a decidedly weak start for a ballot measure. The opposition crossed party lines and extended to all regions of the state. The poll has a four-percentage-point margin of error.

Among the environmental, consumer, and environmental justice groups opposing the bond are the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Planning and Conservation League, Friends of the River, Food & Water Watch, the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, the Winnemem Wintu tribe, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, California Water Impact Network, Southern California Watershed Alliance, and Restore the Delta. They say it hands out billions to agribusiness corporations and other special interests at taxpayers’ expense.

“Voters recognize this bond as bad water policy and bad fiscal policy at a time when California is drowning in red ink,” Sierra Club Senior Advocate Jim Metropulos said in a news release. “We need clean water and we need a better water policy, but this bond is not going to get us there.”

Posted on Thursday, February 18th, 2010
Under: ballot measures, Dianne Feinstein, Environment, George Miller, John Garamendi, Lynn Woolsey, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, water, Zoe Lofgren | 3 Comments »

Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff to jump ship?

(This post comes courtesy of Steve Harmon, our man in Sacramento…)

The administration is knocking down rumors that Susan Kennedy, the all-powerful and influential chief of staff for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is preparing to leave the administration for a job with Mercury Public Affairs to shepherd the water bond campaign.

“No,” said Aaron McLear, spokesman for Schwarzenegger. “It’s not happening.”

But sources say it makes sense that she would head to a political firm with close ties to Schwarzenegger. With Schwarzenegger heading into his final year, many of his cabinet members and staffers are likely to bail on him seeking stable employment.

With Finance Director Mike Genest having announced his departure last week, Kennedy is likely to stay on at least until the administration assembles the budget in January, sources said. At that point, one source said, she would take her water expertise to Mercury, which is expected to be a prominent player in the bond campaign – if not the main campaign committee for it. Mercury most recently ran Schwarzenegger’s ballot measure campaign on redistricting.

“I was told by a good source – a very senior person from inside the horseshoe – six, seven weeks ago that once she got water done, she’d go to Mercury to make some money off the campaign,” one source said, asking not to be identified.

Credited as a central figure in ushering the water deal through the Legislature, Kennedy would be a perfect addition to Mercury. Steve Schmidt, who ran the governor’s re-election campaign in 2006 is a partner, as is Adam Mendelsohn, ex-Schwarzenegger communications director and deputy chief of staff under Kennedy.

Fabian Nunez, the former Democratic Assembly Speaker, is also a partner, and would welcome another Democrat in the Republican-leaning firm. Kennedy previously served as deputy chief of staff for Schwarzenegger’s predecessor, Gray Davis, and was a central player in water politics then, too.

One source familiar with the dynamics of the water bond pooh-poohed the speculation, saying it may have grown out of a lunch meeting that Kennedy had with stakeholders discussing a potential water bond campaign.

“Coming out of that, someone got the wrong idea,” said the source, who asked not to be identified because the source was not authorized to talk.

Posted on Thursday, November 12th, 2009
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, General, Schwarzenegger, water | 10 Comments »

House passes Miller’s water recycling bill

The House today passed Rep. George Miller’s H.R.2442, the “Bay Area Regional Water Recycling Program Expansion Act of 2009,” on a 241-173 vote, advancing a bill that would help ease the region’s water issues.

The bill provides $38 million for six Bay Area water recycling projects: The CCCSD-Concord Recycled Water Project, the Central Dublin Recycled Water Distribution and Retrofit Project, the Petaluma Recycled Water Project, the Central Redwood City Recycled Water Project, the Palo Alto Recycled Water Pipeline Project and the Ironhouse Sanitary District-Antioch Recycled Water Project.

Together, Miller said, they’ll provide 7.2 million gallons of water per day for landscape irrigation and other uses, meaning that same amount of drinkable water gets freed up for nearly 25,000 households. And the projects are expected to create more than 3,000 jobs, he added.

“Today’s bill responds to the request for assistance from the state of California and local water managers to expand the supply of water in our drought-stricken state,” Miller said in his news release. “This bill is good for our economy – it will create thousands of jobs and it will help reduce stress on our oversubscribed fresh water systems.

House Republicans had fought the bill to a standstill two weeks ago; it was brought up Sept. 30 under suspension of the rules, meaning it needed a 2/3 majority to pass, and it went down on a near-party line, 240-170 vote. Today the bill was brought up under a rule, meaning it needed only a simple majority. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, tried again to have it sent back to committee, but failed.

“This legislation is an insult to the water-starved communities of the San Joaquin Valley,” Nunes raged in a statement issued today. “It is offensive to those of us who have fought for and been denied any legislative relief for the real water crisis in California – the one that has turned half a million acres into desert.”

Nunes has been pushing hard for a waiver to the Endangered Species Act so the water flow to Central Valley agribusiness can be restored regardless of the pumping’s impact on the endangered Delta smelt. “George Miller and his friends on the left supported the ESA waiver for New Mexico in 2003. Now they are telling the people of the San Joaquin Valley ‘no,’” Nunes said. “The hypocrisy of my colleagues on the Democratic side of the isle is very telling. Their actions today do not reflect the values of the American people.”

But Miller said water recycling is supported by the major water coalitions including the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Association of California Water Agencies.

“This legislation will not only help my congressional district, which has pioneered water recycling efforts, but is one of a series of water recycling bills that the House has approved this year to expand water supply in communities up and down California, in Republican and Democratic districts alike — without controversy, and without amendment, and without debate on larger California water policy issues,” Miller said. “This year alone, the House has passed five local water bills for Republican members of the House. Those members asked for and received support from the House for their bills, and did not ask for an amendment for any one of those bills.”

Posted on Thursday, October 15th, 2009
Under: General, George Miller, U.S. House, water | 1 Comment »

Water deal still not done

It’s almost 9 p.m. and I’ve been sitting in the hallway outside Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office for almost on eight hours now.

The giant sculpted gold bear in front of the guv’s door has a microphone perched on it. The press corps is sitting around on laptops and borrowed desk chairs from nearby offices, which is an improvement over the cold granite tiled floor.

The Big Five was supposed to go back into a third round of talks at 8 p.m. but they didn’t show up until a few minutes ago.

The Dems say they have a document for the Republicans to review. Schwarzenegger’s spokesman says we should expect a statement in an hour as to the status of the negotiations and what the governor intends to do about the roughly 350 bills he is holding hostage pending the outcome of a water deal.

Will there be a water deal tonight? It’s hard to say. What legislators say in the hallway outside negotiations and what they say to each other behind closed doors is often a major divide. Neither side wants to give ground in the court of public opinion. Whatever they come out with, if they come out with anything, will be claimed as victory by both sides.

In the meantime, one of the top aides has offered me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Another aide came through with pizza. I can’t accept gifts valued more than $5. How much is a PB&J worth?

Posted on Sunday, October 11th, 2009
Under: California Legislature, water | No Comments »

East Bay legislators dubious about state water deal

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord

I talked with three Contra Costa state lawmakers via telephone this morning about their views on the Big Five water talks under way in Sacramento today. I did not hear much optimism about a the chances of a deal by tonight’s deadline.

Sen. Mark DeSaulnier and assemblymembers Joan Buchanan and Tom Torlakson view the closed-door talks on the controversial and complex subject as unlikely to produce a package that will attain either legislative or public support, and urged the resumption of public hearings.

DeSaulnier of Concord, who scuttled his planned trip to Spain this week in order to participate in the California water negotiations, called Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s move to hold hostage 700 bills on his desk pending a water deal counter-productive.

“The governor’s unique talents are unsuits for this time right now in Sacramento,” DeSaulnier said. “He just not very good at negotiation.”

“What’s the rush?” he added. “Are they worried it will start raining and with the drought over, the pressure will be off to pass reforms? I think we can get a deal but we need to do it with continued public hearings and public discussion, not artificial deadlines.”

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo

Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch

Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch

Even if the Big Five emerge today or Saturday arm-in-arm with a package, the East Bay legislators say the question of how to pay for it remains a huge sticking point.

All three say they oppose financing the estimated $8 billion to $12 billion package through general obligation bonds. Repayment of general obligation bonds comes right of the top of the state’s general fund, which means the money cannot be used elsewhere.

They favor the use of revenue bonds, which are repaid by water users including residents, businesses and farmers.

“It the midst of these horrible deficits, and we’re facing additional horrendous challenges next year, do we want to cut more from schools or higher education?” said Torlakson, D-Antioch.

“The payment on a $12 billion bond is $700 million a year,” said Buchanan, D-Alamo. “If we are going to pass legislation and ask voters to pass a bond, we need to ask how we’re going to pay for it.”

Buchanan also says that she and other Delta area lawmakers will demand sufficient time to evaluate any proposal and talk with their constituents.

“A half a million people live in the Delta and the impacts of new policies could last decades,” Buchanan said. “You can bet that I and my staff will be reading every word.”

Postscript: DeSaulnier’s trip to Spain was, ironically, a Senate-sponsored event to study the country’s national water system. “I learned more about water by staying home,” DeSaulnier said.

Posted on Friday, October 9th, 2009
Under: California Assembly, California Legislature, California Senate, Environment, State politics, water | No Comments »