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Fulfilling the Promise of New Water Storage

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A recent article on by James Gallagher and Aubrey Bettencourt, discusses Proposition 1, the Water Bond passed in fall 2014, its necessity and the opposition to it from extreme environmental special interest groups. Assemblyman James Gallagher represents the 3rd Assembly District, which encompasses all of Glenn, Sutter, Tehama and Yuba Counties as well as portions of Butte and Colusa Counties. Aubrey Bettencourt is the Executive Director of the California Water Alliance. They state that with the passage of Water Bond, Governor Brown, the state legislature and California voters made clear the vital role new storage projects play in addressing the needs of the environment, economy, jobs and a population now twice the size since the state’s last major water infrastructure project was completed.

In the midst of this extreme drought, the voters’ commitment to fund reliable, clean water supplies and new storage for all is not a symbolic gesture, wishful planning, feel-good rhetoric or cynical gamesmanship. Rather it is a pressing mandate and tangible opportunity promised by the governor and to the state.

California is now in its fourth year of severe drought. More than 650,000 acres of prime farmland are expected to remain unplanted this year while fresh market fruit, vegetable crops and orchards dry up. There are tens of thousands of lost jobs, and thousands more are in peril.

Water, electrical energy and fresh local produce costs are skyrocketing. In the most prosperous state in the greatest nation on earth, people are living in third-world conditions trucking in water for drinking and bathing. Even the environment is suffering; migratory waterfowl habitat has severely declined for want of reliable water. And in some parts of the state, the land itself is sinking from lack of adequate supplies of water to refill its aquifers.

The need for more above-ground water storage should not even be debatable. The legislature voted almost unanimously to pass the Water Bond. Californians voted nearly 70% in favor of the water bond. All reasonable time for debate is over.

Unfortunately, extreme environmental special interest groups are attempting to undermine the promised investment in water storage projects. Their intent is to convince elected officials, government departments and the appointed commissions charged with administering water bond spending that California doesn’t need more storage.

They argue that groundwater storage projects, not reservoirs, should be the only storage option considered for funding.

Just last week, we saw these groups flex their political muscle in Sacramento when they successfully lobbied against a measure that would have helped fast-track construction timelines for projects like Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat – two storage solutions that have been under consideration by state and federal officials for nearly 30 years.

Assembly Bill 311 was a common-sense idea – allow new water storage projects to benefit from the same streamlined environmental review that helped the Kings break ground so quickly on their new arena in downtown Sacramento. But despite hundreds of Californians rallying on the steps of the Capitol in favor of the bill, it died in the Assembly Natural Resources committee on a party line vote.

Without a streamlined environmental review, projects designed to capture billions of acre-feet of new water will be stalled or stopped by long, drawn-out legal battles of vocal environmental interests that oppose above-ground storage whether it benefits them or not.

With the future of California’s economy and livelihood at stake, we simply cannot allow these radical special interests to condemn the state to a future of continued water cuts, shortages and costs by further obstructing the construction of new water storage projects.

California voters are expecting the governor and legislative leaders to make good on their promise of investing $2.7 billion in new water storage. This promise was instrumental in November’s water bond legislation gaining rare bipartisan support and overwhelming approval at the ballot box.

The fundamental flaw with investing this $2.7 billion into groundwater storage is that not a single ounce of new water will be captured by these projects. Underground water storage facilities would need to utilize the existing dilapidated water supply system in order to be filled, which would only further shortchange agriculture, urban users and even the environment.

New storage will do more than simply help farmers and urban residents. New storage means additional water to protect salmon and other fish as they migrate and spawn. New storage means, infrastructure projects, valuable jobs and a boost to the faltering California economy.

It is the right thing to do. Following through on the state’s commitment to storage fulfills the promise to the voters and pays the debt. Look how quickly government can mobilize to build sports arenas and stadiums. The state needs a similar mindset and energy when it comes to constructing reservoirs and water supply. If this drought has taught us anything, it is there is simply no time left to waste.

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