Besides budgetary bungling and disappearing tax revenues, California has another serious problem to confront: Water. Or lack thereof. And where does a great amount of the state’s water come from? The Delta, that quaint little backwater that’s home to 200+ parental guardians (government departments, agencies, organizations, advisors and entities) that have a stake in it.

Water issues will be a focus of discussions in the last weeks of the legislative session, and the Senate and Assembly has recently released a package of bills that intends to deal with Delta restoration, water conservation and water use in a state where severe drought is crippling its agriculture industry and not responding to steady population increases.

The American Council of Engineering Cos. California sent along a report this week about the bills, which would require development of a Delta Plan, create a new Delta governance structure, require a 20% reduction in statewide urban per capita water use by 2020 and establish new water use reporting requirements. The bills also include provisions related to funding, implementation of the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan and in-stream flows.

The ACEC says the legislative proposals seek to write into law new protections, and accompanying governance, for the estuary created by the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. ACEC and industry groups say they are concerned that the bills establish multiple layers of new government that do little to increase water reliability.

Great. That's what we need. More government.

Plus, the governor has stated that he will not sign the package of water bills (a line in the sand, so to speak) if it does not include a water infrastructure bond that expands the state’s water storage capacity (both surface storage – dams/reservoirs – and groundwater), funds habitat restoration, water quality and conservation. In addition, the governor demands a Delta governance structure that adheres to his years-long-in-development Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Here’s a brief summary (by the ACEC) of some of the legislative bills:

SB 3 - Delta Conservancy and Delta Protection Commission (Wolk). This legislation makes modifications to the existing Delta Protection Commission, reducing its membership from 23 to 18 members, while retaining three city members. The commission will function as a planning commission for the Delta. The bill requires the Commission to adopt a resource management plan no later than 2011. It also requires cities and counties within the “primary zone” of the Delta to submit general plan amendments to the commission to make sure they are consistent with the resource management plan. Cities designated to be in the “primary zone” of the Delta are Sacramento, Stockton, Tracy, Antioch, Pittsburg, Isleton, Lathrop, Brentwood, West Sacramento and Oakley. Any other cities that may be incorporated in the future in the primary zone will be included as well.

SB 1 - Delta Governance (Simitian). As introduced, the legislation would create the Delta Stewardship Council. This council would have the authority to pursue Delta restoration work and a water conveyance facility. Four of the council’s seven members would be appointed by the governor and two by the legislature. The seventh would be the chair of the Delta Protection Commission. The council has no oversight by the legislature or other state agency. The legislation also creates a new “Independent Science Board” and a “Delta Water Master” that has new authority to enforce environmental regulations.

AB 2 - Water Conservation and Sustainable Management (Feuer/Huffman). This legislation requires the state and urban retail water suppliers to meet 20% water conservation by 2020. Urban retail water suppliers (defined as supplying water to more than 3,000 municipal customers) have several options for calculating their reduction targets and baseline numbers in the bill.

Meanwhile, the state Water Resources Control Board reports last week that it will consider the adoption on Sept. 2 of the state’s permit for management by construction stormwater runoff. ACEC says it has expressed concerns with the draft permit, which contains new limits on sediment content in stormwater running off both construction sites and finished facilities.

So, in a perfect world, the legislature and governor would come together, streamline the decision-making authority and get some important water projects under construction, which, of course, would be a boon to the state’s construction and engineering firms. This is important stuff that demands leadership. If water issues are not addressed, and soon, the state will dry up and burn away. It’s a sad state.  

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