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Friday, February 15, 2008

Water Bond Initiative Opposed By Environmentalists

February 8, 2008 — The California Chamber of Commerce is pressuring both US Senator Dianne Feinstein and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to endorse its environmentally-devastating $11.69 billion water bond initiative.

The bond, which the Chamber hopes to place on the November 2008 ballot, is strongly opposed by environmental groups throughout California for its potential effects on the state's natural resources. The bond would:

  • Include $3.5 billion explicitly for dam construction, plus billions more that could be used for dams on California rivers.
  • Establish a dangerous new "water commission" empowered to fund and build a peripheral canal and divert massive amounts of water from the Sacramento River around the imperiled California Bay-Delta Estuary for large-scale corporate agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley and sprawl development in Southern California. (Over-pumping of water from the Delta during the past eight years has already contributed to the collapse of the Delta ecosystem, including plummeting salmon and other fish populations.)
  • Eliminate public and legislative oversight and leave the fate of the Delta and Northern California rivers in the hands of politically appointed bureaucrats likely to have strong ties to special interests in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

The Chamber's push is seen by many as an end-run around the Governor's own Delta Vision process, which has brought together stakeholders from the environmental, business, water, agricultural, and Delta communities. The Governor-appointed Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force just issued its Final Delta Vision and stakeholders are now developing a Vision implementation plan to restore the Delta and provide water for California's environment and economy.

The Chamber's initiative also threatens to deepen the fiscal crisis facing California. According to the California Attorney General, the initiative would strap California's General Fund and state taxpayers with an additional $760 million annually for the next three decades. The increased debt service would cripple already under-funded public safety, health, fire, and education services. (For comparison, in 2007 the state budget was held up for weeks over proposed cuts of $700 million.)

Many of California's top elected officials have demonstrated great leadership by rejecting the Chamber's bond and forwarding positive proposals. Last year, Senate President pro Tem Don Perata introduced a much more affordable water bond that focused on water recycling, water use efficiency, ecosystem restoration, and other local projects. Unfortunately, despite widespread support from water agencies, environmental organizations, and businesses, Senator Perata's initiative was killed by special interests seeking to advance the Chamber's mega-bond. Senator Perata has since announced his opposition to the Chamber's bond and has committed to stopping the Chamber's efforts to circumvent the Legislature.

The Planning and Conservation League and many others are urging both Senator Feinstein and the Governor to follow the leadership demonstrated by Senator Perata, and reject the Chamber's $11.69 billion bond.

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