SAN FRANCISCO - As the deadline nears for the California Legislature to pass bills, lawmakers are faced with five different water bond measures that would address the state's water supply problems.
They have until June 26 to agree a plan and send it to Gov. Jerry Brown for approval.
The abundance of proposals comes amid the state's worst drought on record, which has boosted public support for a water bond.
Since February, two proposals have died, and three more have been proposed, though no bill has yet made it through both houses.
This year's proposals aim to scale back and replace the $11 billion Safe, Clean and Reliable Water Supply Act bond measure, which is currently scheduled to go on the November ballot.
That bond measure was originally crafted in 2009 when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor, and has been criticized as being too large and replete with earmarks. It was first scheduled for the 2010 ballot, but was postponed until 2012, and then again until 2014 amid fears that voters would reject it.
The drought may have changed things. A poll from March found that more voters—around 60% of adults and 50% of likely voters—are inclined to vote for the $11 billion water bond.
The $11 billion water bond proposal includes $4 billion for local resources and development, $4 billion for ecosystem restoration, and $3 billion for the public benefits associated with new surface and groundwater storage projects.
If lawmakers can't agree on anything, the 2009 measure will remain on the ballot. But they are trying to create an improved water bond measure more likely to pass.
"We're in the final weeks," said Alf Brandt, legislative director for Assemblymember Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, who is proposing an $8 billion water bond. "That's why we're working hard."
Rendon's Assembly Bill 1331, introduced in February 2013, includes funding to improve drinking water quality, protect rivers and watersheds, improve clean water delivery, protect the Delta water system, and for storage projects to protect the state in future droughts.
The bill is set for a hearing on June 11 in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, after which it would go to the Appropriations Committee.
"We just keep moving along, kind of like the tortoise and the hare," Brandt said. "We're the tortoise."
AB 1331, which passed the Assembly last year, is the furthest along among the water bond bills in the legislature.
Two other bills are also being considered in the Assembly — a $7.9 billion bill introduced by Assemblymembers Connie Conway of Tulare, the Assembly Republican leader, and Frank Bigelow, R-O'Neals, and a $10 billion bill proposed by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno.
Conway and Bigelow's AB 2043 includes $3 billion for water storage, $1.5 billion for Delta sustainability, and $1.2 billion for regional water supply reliability.
That bill will be heard later this month in the Assembly Appropriations committee, according to Amanda Fulkerson, a spokesperson for Conway.
She added that the bill could be pushed off because it includes an urgency clause, meaning the deadlines do not apply.
Perea's AB 2686, includes $3 billion for groundwater storage, $2.3 billion for Delta sustainability, $1.5 billion for watershed protection, and $1.5 billion for regional water reliability.
The bill is jointly authored by Bigelow, and co-authored by another Republican, Assemblymember Dan Logue of Marysville.
Logue pulled his own water bond proposal, AB 1445, in April, announcing he would join up with Parea.
"Water is not a partisan issue, and we need to work together to solve this water crisis," Logue said in his announcement. "This is why I am pulling my own water bond legislation, and am reaching across the aisle to work with Assemblyman Perea and other members to come together for a solution to this historic drought."
Logue said Perea's bill has one of the fundamental components that his own bill had — $3 billion for groundwater storage.
AB 2686 is the only bill to have bipartisan sponsorship, and is also supported by several state and local advocacy groups, including the California State Council of Laborers, the Association of California Water Agencies, and the Western Growers Association.
"The ongoing drought, one of the worst in California's history, underscores the need to pass a water bond in 2014 to protect our environment and economy," said Tim Quinn, executive director of ACWA. "This will require bipartisan cooperation, and we strongly commend Assemblymember Perea for reaching across the aisle to hammer out a bipartisan water bond."
The bill has also received support from Senator Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, whose own water bond proposal recently died in a Senate Committee.
Senator Lois Wolk, D-Davis, is pushing her own water bond bill, introduced in January as a new version of similar legislation she introduced in December 2012.
According to the most recent draft of the proposal, Wolk's bill would authorize $6.8 billion of bonds, focusing on local projects that will increase the reliability of the existing water supply, including conservation, recycling, improving dams, and making better use of existing water supplies.
The bill passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 23, and could be taken up on the floor as soon as this week, according to a spokesperson for Wolk.
Another bill that has gained widespread support is SB 1250, a nearly $10 billion proposal Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, introduced in February. It includes $3 billion in funding for water storage, $2.3 billion for Delta communities, $1.3 billion for watershed protection, and $1.4 billion for regional water reliability.
"It combines science and planning, and builds efficiencies that will bring a clean and reliable water supply to Californians," said Senator Hueso. "The goal of this bill is to also create a clear and transparent process that will aid voters in making an informed decision regarding the use of their tax dollars at the ballot box."
The bill is currently in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Water where a hearing was cancelled at Hueso's request.
Lourdes Jimenez, a spokesperson for Hueso, said they have parked the bill in the committee for now because the Senate is working to come up with a compromise bond.
"As we were moving our bill along the process, conversations started happening to see if leadership can reconcile some of the most important elements of each bond and put one together that everyone agrees on," Jimenez said.
The bill has received support from Cannella, who said it meets the same goals that his SB 927 did. It's also supported by the California State Council of Laborers and the ACWA.
"Senator Hueso's bill has funding for all the right categories, including Delta sustainability, storage, groundwater cleanup and local projects such as water conservation and recycling," ACWA Vice President Kathleen Tiegs said at a press conference.
The ACWA is a statewide coalition of public water agencies, which are collectively responsible for 90% of the water delivered to cities, farms, and businesses in the state.
The ACWA has said it supports the current version of the water bond set to be on the November ballot, but its board of directors has recognized that modifications to reduce the size and remove earmarks from the $11 billion bond would improve its chances with voters.
The association has been working with lawmakers to build support for a bond that meets certain criteria, which include $3 billion in appropriations for water storage, funding for Delta restoration, eliminating earmarks that allocate funds for specific projects with a competitive process, and funding for a number of other water projects.
AB 2686 and SB 1250 are the first bills to meet these criteria so far this year, the association said.
If any one of these various proposals to replace the $11 billion bond receives the necessary two-thirds vote in both houses, it would still need a signature from Gov. Brown before making it to the November ballot, when a majority of voters would have to say "yes."
The governor's office generally does not comment on pending legislation, although Brown did say in January that he would support a water bond measure.
"There's no point in having one person, even the governor, support something if 55% of the people don't support it," Brown told a reporter in late January. "So I want to look very carefully at what is possible and based on my judgment as to what we can do, I'll take appropriate action in consultation with the legislature."