California lawmakers, ag push for water bond

07/30/2014 11:25:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

(CORRECTED) CLOVIS, Calif. — With the sound of a bulldozer pushing water-starved citrus trees in the background, a group of California lawmakers and citrus industry leaders drove home the need for a water bond to fund new water storage.

They spoke at a July 29 press conference hosted by citrus grower Shawn Stevenson, who received zero surface water allocations this year from the Friant Unit of the federal Central Valley Project. With access to only limited groundwater supplies, Stevenson said he had to decide in late winter what groves would survive and receive water and what groves to sacrifice.

Even more gut-wrenching, he said, was he had to lay off 30% of his employees.

“This is the first layoff I’ve ever done because of a lack of water,” Stevenson said.

To ensure future surface water supplies, he and others pointed to the $11.1 billion water bond proposal, which has been in the works for more than six years and has qualified for the Nov. 4 California ballot. Should it pass, a portion of the funds would go toward building new reservoir storage for the state.

The current system of canals and reservoirs were designed for a state with 17 million inhabitants — California currently has 38 million people and growing, said Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals.

bulldozing citrusVicky BoydA bulldozer makes quick work of 30-year-old valencia trees in one of the groves at Harlan Ranch. Assemblywoman Connie Conway, R-Bakersfield, who helped draft the original water bond measure, deflected critics who say all of agriculture’s troubles could be solved with improved conservation.

“You can’t conserve if you don’t have it,” said Conway, also Assembly minority leader. “If you don’t store water, there’s nothing to conserve. You can’t recharge wells if you don’t have water to recharge with.”

Water bond supporters had originally targeted the November 2010 ballot. But it was pushed back because the state received rain and the recession hit, said Danny Merkley, California Farm Bureau director of water affairs.

Efforts to get it on the 2012 ballot again were halted because the measure still wasn’t polling well, he said.

“Late last year there was considerable talk in the Legislature and other circles that it’s too big and it’s got too much pork in it,” he said.

An effort is underway to craft a replacement measure in the neighborhood of $8 billion. Should that happen and it has bipartisan support, the bonds’ original authors would consider a substitution, Conway said.

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