SAN FRANCISCO — After a session that lasted until 6:00 yesterday morning, California lawmakers signed a massive water infrastructure package that includes an $11.1 billion general obligation bond measure.
The state’s voters will get the final say on the bond measure in November 2010.
Supporters of the deal, brokered by Senate President pro tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said it commits the state to action on upgrading its aging water delivery system, after years of debate.
“This is the single biggest advance in water policy the state of California has seen in decades,” Steinberg said in a statement. “Through hard work and compromise, we have taken a major step toward ensuring that Californians have a reliable water supply while protecting the natural resources that enhance our quality of life.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, signaled his enthusiastic endorsement in a statement issued shortly after the legislation passed.
“This comprehensive water package is an historic achievement. Without clean, reliable water, we cannot build, we cannot farm, we cannot grow, and we cannot prosper,” he said. “That is why I am so proud that the Legislature, Democrats and Republicans, came together and tackled one of the most complicated issues in our state’s history.”
Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, sponsor of one of the policy bills in the package, said the legislation clears a path to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which is facing both a collapsing ecosystem as well as the threatened collapse of its aging levee system.
“The Delta is California’s Katrina waiting to happen,” he said in a statement. “With this legislation, we are taking significant steps to prevent that from taking place.”
Simitian carried the bill that creates a new governing body to oversee the Delta, with the authority to decide the controversial question of how to move water to the Central Valley and the Los Angeles basin — likely by substituting a peripheral canal or pipeline for the pumps that currently suck water out of the Delta.
“This will build water storage above the ground and below the ground,” Schwarzenegger said at a press conference called yesterday morning to celebrate the water deal. “This will build the canal in order to protect the Delta. This will protect the Delta, the ecosystem of the Delta.”
The peripheral canal idea has been around for decades — and has been controversial for decades in the region around the Delta. Most of the votes against the bond and water bills came from the Delta region, with Steinberg an obvious exception.
“There are tremendous gains for the environment in the entire package,” Steinberg said at the press conference.
Senators passed a $9.99 billion GO bond bill early Monday, and it grew to $11.14 billion once the Assembly was finished with it.
Steinberg said the bond measure grew because important things were added to it: $500 million more for groundwater supplies and cleanup, plus $500 million for watershed conservation.
Schwarzenegger promised a full-bore campaign to pass the bond measure next November, in the same election when Californians elect a successor to the termed-out Austrian-American.
“I know the people will be with us on this,” the governor said. “You will see Democrats and Republicans traveling up and down the state, holding town halls and educating people on why this is the best thing.”