UPDATED: Water deal struck in California

08/14/2014 07:56:00 AM
Mike Hornick

(UPDATED COVERAGE 6:12 p.m.) The California state legislature has passed a revised $7.5 billion bond measure that includes $2.7 billion for water storage projects — more than the $2.5 billion most recently proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown and others.

Harlan Ranch signVicky BoydA banner marks the entryway into Harlan Ranch east of Clovis, Calif. Bulldozers have pushed out about 400 of the family-owned operation’s 1,200 acres of citrus due to inadequate water supplies.California Citrus Mutual, Western Growers Association and the California Farm Bureau Federation all praised the deal. The measure will go before voters in November, replacing Proposition 43.

Brown said in June that the proposition’s $11.1 billion price tag was excessive. At the time he called for a $6 billion measure. Since then Democrats and Republicans in the state assembly and senate have debated various alternatives.

The legislature acted Aug. 13 a few hours before a midnight deadline to get an alternative on the ballot.

California Citrus Mutual had supported keeping $3 billion for reservoirs, dams and related infrastructure. Some citrus growers have been accelerating or expanding orchard removal programs in response to zero water allocations. The state is in the third year of a drought.

The day before passage, the California Farm Bureau Federation and Western Growers came out in support of a $6.5 billion deal backed by the governor that had $2.5 billion for storage. That package did not come to a vote.

“California Citrus Mutual is adamant that we at least have more than $2.5 billion for storage, but we’re flexible to a degree on the $3 billion, knowing that when the time comes we might have to make a deal,” Alyssa Houtby, director of public affairs for the Exeter-based trade group, said just hours before the bond measure passed.

After the deal with $2.7 billion was reached and signed by Brown, California Citrus Mutual president Joel Nelsen called it a step forward.

“To the governor’s credit he and his team listened to stakeholders and came a long way from the $2 billion for storage that was included in his original proposal to a more comprehensive package that addresses our valley and the state’s needs for a real solution,” Nelsen said in a statement.

“We have more money for storage, a path towards cross valley connectors, and funding for groundwater cleanup in disadvantaged communities,” Nelsen said. “The previous proposals contained less money, no pathway for the connector, and in reality made too few happy.”

“We’ve got to have some money in the bond for regional conveyance,” Houtby said. “We’re talking about east-west conveyance. That’s vitally important for us here on the east side in order to make any storage useable for us.”


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