It seems like there is a bond for everything this year except for addressing California’s most pressing need—water.
The Sacramento Delta, which serves 25 million Californians, is one sizeable earthquake or storm from disaster. New Orleans suffered extensive levee failures during Hurricane Katrina, but levee failures in the Delta area could be more devastating because of the higher numbers of people served by and dependent on this single source of water.
According to the governor’s Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, $12-$24 billion is needed over the next 10-15 years just to restore the environment and strengthen the region’s physical infrastructure. It could take more to improve the water delivery system throughout the state. And, yes, there should be a peripheral canal to ensure that all Californians have access to a safe supply of water and so that the natural environment can be restored.
Last week, I spoke to two former lawmakers representing Northern California from each party. Both opposed the peripheral canal proposition in 1982 while serving in the Assembly. When asked whether such a proposition would pass these days, both replied that they thought so. They agree that the water situation is so serious that the “south stealing water” arguments won’t work this time around—especially when you consider that the San Francisco Bay area is more dependent on the Delta for its water than us in Southern California.
Recently, Sen. Feinstein and Gov. Schwarzenegger released their proposal for the framework of a water bond to adequately address the Delta issues. So far, nobody in the legislature has formally taken up the cause (unless water is part of the budget negotiations).
Clearly, resolving the state budget debacle is and should be the top priority for now. As soon as a spending plan is adopted, lawmakers should turn their attention to the water challenge. And voters should prioritize water as California’s most pressing issue.