HANFORD – Good luck trying to find somebody in Kings County willing to denounce Wednesday’s $7.5 billion water bond deal.
The compromise package, which sailed through the Assembly 77-2 and the Senate 37-0 after months of negotiations, won broad support among farmers, water experts and water lobbyists as a third-year of California drought tightened its grip.
Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, and Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, voted “yes.”
“It’s an incredible bipartisan effort, which is almost unheard of on such a contentious issue as water,” said Dino Giacomazzi, Kings County Farm Bureau president and Hanford dairy owner. “I guess that tells you it was the right deal.”
The measure goes to the voters Nov. 4, bringing to a climax the saga that began in 2009 with an $11.1 billion water bond agreement reached under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The deal, which many viewed as bloated and overpriced, was supposed to go on the 2010 ballot. It got delayed because supporters didn’t think the public would swallow it in the middle of a severe recession.
Ditto in 2012. It was delayed again.
Fast forward to a few months ago. Gov. Jerry Brown proposed slashing to bond to $6 billion total with $2 billion for new dams – down from $3 billion in the original language. Valley legislators, including Democrats like Salas, insisted on $3 billion minimum for storage.
When Brown made take-it-or-leave-it offer Wednesday for $2.7 billion to fund dams, the holdouts accepted . The deal was struck.
Had there been no deal to rewrite the bond, the 2009 version would have gone on the ballot without the support of Brown, other leading Democrats, powerful environmental groups and legislators in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta.
“I think that the important thing was we got a bill that the governor is going to support,” Giacomazzi said. “There’s a good possibility of this thing passing.”
Wednesday’s compromise won support even from the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental interest group usually opposed to dam projects.
The California Farm Bureau Federation immediately went into campaign mode, issuing a statement urging Californians to support the agreement and “invest in our state’s water system.”
“The severe water shortages we’re currently experiencing result from 30 years of neglecting our water-storage system,” said Paul Wenger, federation president. “Placing this water bond on the November ballot gives Californians a chance to provide more water for our cities, for food production and for the environment.”
Mario Santoyo, Latino Water Coalition executive director, lobbied hard for $3 billion for storage. He praised the united group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers from the Central Valley whom he said pressured Brown into the $2.7 billion offer for new water storage.
“The world is not a perfect place,” Santoyo said. “We gained much more in political support to [help] make it pass.”
Dennis Mills, Kings County Water District general manager, said the bond includes funding for regional groundwater coalitions the district is a member of.
“I think our preference would have been to see a higher bond, but … I’m pretty happy with the size of the one that passed,” Mills said.
“Relative to the bond, there are clearly some opportunities to assist with continued funding for regional water storage projects and critically important funding for surface storage facilities,” said Dave Orth, Kings River Conservation District general manager. “Hopefully, voters will see this as a real critical way of getting out of the water calamity that we’re in.”
One of the few people to voice dissatisfaction was Corcoran water lawyer Mike Nordstrom.
“It’s frustrating that our Legislature and our governor put such a high priority on this luxury train that’s going to cost over $100 billion, and we can’t even spend $3 billion on water infrastructure and water storage,” Nordstrom said. “For me, it’s really disappointing when we don’t put water and water storage as our highest priority.”
The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SethN_HS.