Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and more than two dozen agricultural, water, environmental, labor and business leaders met Tuesday to discuss a water bond for California.

SAN FRANCISCO — With time running out, California lawmakers finally agreed Wednesday on a $7.5 billion water bond measure to put before voters in November.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bond package, which will be Proposition 1 in November, shortly after the measure passed in the legislature. The measure replaces an $11.1 billion water bond measure that was previously slated for the ballot.

"Water is the lifeblood of any civilization and for California it's the precondition of healthy rivers, valleys, farms and a strong economy," Brown said in a statement Wednesday night. "With this water bond, legislators from both parties have affirmed their faith in California's future."

Assembly Bill 1471, introduced by Assemblymember Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, passed 37-0 in the Senate and 77-2 in the Assembly.

The new bond measure would authorize $7.12 billion in new debt, and repurpose $425 million of unspent bond funds for a total of $7.545 billion.

According to Brown's office, the bond provides for water use efficiency and recycling, groundwater cleanup and management, and $2.7 billion for additional water storage.

It also invests in safe drinking water, particularly in disadvantaged communities, and provides for watershed restoration and increased flows in the state's rivers and streams.

Another water bond measure, Senate Bill 866, also passed in the legislature on Wednesday. However, it was vetoed by Brown because it was identical to AB 1471.

The Senate version was authored by Senator Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Wolk has been pushing various versions of her proposal for a water bond, first introduced in December 2012.

"This bond is a compromise," Wolk said of the final version. "It isn't perfect. But it is still a win for the Delta and the state, and it is a bond that voters can support in November."

The legislative action brings an end to the drawn-out debate over how large the new water bond should be and what specific allocations it should include. Many bond proposals had been made in the legislature, ranging in size from $5 billion to $10 billion, including a $6 billion bond proposed by Brown last week.

Lawmakers did agree that the previous $11 billion water bond needed to be replaced, because it was "pork-laden," too large, and likely to fail in a statewide vote, according to its critics.

They also agreed that now is the time to get a new water bond measure passed, as California endures one of the worst droughts in its recorded history.

"Every issue raised by the [San Diego County Water Authority] over the course of the past several months has been satisfactorily addressed in the final version of the water bond," Thomas V. Wornham, chair of the authority's board of directors said of the final water bond measure.

Other water and agriculture groups in the state also applauded the new bond, including the Metropolitan Water District, the Community Water Center, the Bay Area Council, American Rivers — California, the Nature Conservancy Water Program, and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

"We believe that it takes an historic step toward addressing California's water crisis in a fiscally prudent manner, while providing substantial funding for new storage, local resource development, watershed enhancement, and safe drinking water," said Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.

A sticking point for Republicans and Central Valley Democrats was the amount of water storage funding included in the bond measure. They said $3 billion was needed to finance reservoirs, while Democratic leaders initially proposed $2 billion, before a compromise was reached at $2.7 billion.

"We successfully fought back against efforts to shortchange funding for critical water storage projects," said Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare. "If Republicans had not stood firm in fighting for more storage, this funding would likely have never materialized and we would be faced with more Band-Aid fixes to our severe droughts."

One Republican, however, did not think the bond included enough water storage and voted against the measure.

"In this bill, water storage is only $2.7B, and there's zero for conveyance," Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, said on his Facebook page. "So, I cannot in good conscience vote to straddle future generations with $7.5B in debt disguised as bond obligations."

The fate of the new water bond measure is now out of the hands of state lawmakers and will be decided by California's voters Nov. 4.

 

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