By Wayne Lusvardi.

With the drought still drying up the state, the California Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown Wednesday poured out a $7.5 billion water bond that includes $2.7 billion for water storage. If voters give their approval this November, this will be the first bond in 50 years to include water storage.

The storage is significant because, from 1971 to 2014, California voters passed 21 water bonds totaling $35.9 billion without any water storage. Paraphrasing poet Samuel T. Coleridge, California had “bonds, bonds, water bonds, but not a drop of water to drink.”

The new bond passed in the Assembly by a vote of 77 to 2 and in the state Senate by 37 to 0.  Legislators in the Assembly broke into applause after the vote.

Said Republican Leader Bob Huff of Brea, “It was real critical to get a bond that actually helped fund two reservoirs.  We’ve had a lot of bonds in the last 15 years that haven’t had any storage, so we finally have a water bond that has water in it.”

Added Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego:

“In this bond we make the biggest investment in water storage in decades. We make a major investment in ensuring clean, sustainable groundwater, and we make a major investment in our rivers, streams, and watersheds that will help with our water needs, and provide important environmental benefits as well.  With this bond we harness innovative technology, we anticipate the challenges that future droughts may pose, and we create jobs.”

First look

The new water bond is Assembly Bill 1471. Here’s a first look at its contents:

  • The $7.12 billion bond will replace the $11.1 billion Proposition 43 bond approved for the ballot in 2010 but, but delayed by the Legislature that year and in 2012 because there was little chance voters would approve it during tough economic times.
  • $425 million in existing water bond funding will be folded into the new bond. That will run the total of the bond, if it’s approved, to $7.5 billion.
  • $2.7 billion will be allocated for “surface water and groundwater” storage projects.
  • It creates a nine-member California Water Council to be appointed by the governor to oversee the selection of sites for new dams and reservoirs.
  • Annual principal and interest payments on the bond “would equate to about $490 million” from the general fund. That could become a major factor during the next recession as the new bond payments would have to come from cuts in other programs, or tax increases.
  • The new bond does not contain the $250 million in funding in Section 79757 of the 2010 Water bond to remove five dams along the Klamath River that flows from Oregon into California.

Restore the Delta opposed water for the Delta

Opposition includes Restore the Delta, which objected to the bond because it was not “tunnel neutral.” The group opposes Brown’s plan to build two tunnels under the Delta to keep separate ocean water from inland (unsalty) water.

Restore the Delta also didn’t like that the bond would provide $200 million for the Wildlife Conservation Board to buy water from willing sellers for the benefit of migratory birds and wildlife refuges.  But Restore the Delta believes the same water to be bought for wildlife eventually could be pumped through the proposed Twin Tunnels.

Said Restore the Delta Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, “It contains false protections for the Delta, and we call upon legislators, especially those representing the Delta, to vote against it. We are not fooled, and this bond will become a referendum for the tunnels. That is not going to advance the water solutions we need.”

All that remains to be seen is if the voters can gulp down a $7.5 billion water bond with water storage in it for the first time in almost 50 years.

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Originally posted at CalWatchdog.