About that water vote this week …

Last Sunday, the governor and legislative leaders announced that amazing progress had been made on the water bill and suggested a magic agreement that would leave everyone happy was just days, or even hours, away.

Still, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted, the negotiators “still have a few remaining issues to work out.”

Remaining issues like, well, everything.

State Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who had talked confidently of having both a bill and a vote by this week, decided Thursday to take a mulligan. Not only won’t there be a vote this week, he announced, but the state Senate – and the Assembly, for that matter – won’t even be in session. But next week everyone will be back in Sacramento for a vote on that pesky water bill. Maybe.

Now when the Field Poll found last week that 73 percent of California voters favored the governor’s call for a special session on water supply issues, it’s probably a safe bet that they thought the Legislature would actually be meeting with actual urgency in Sacramento. The idea of having the people’s representatives sitting at home waiting for white smoke to rise over the Capitol probably won’t do much to improve their almost invisible 13 percent approval rating with voters.

As for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, well, his bill-signing tour of California will continue with a stop at Merced City Hall this morning to highlight mortgage protection measures he approved last Sunday.

The empty halls of the Capitol don’t mean that behind-the-scenes work isn’t going on, but if an agreement was near, there would be plenty of people hanging around to take credit.

Problem is, every time there’s a hint of agreement on a water package, another interest group shows up to slam it.

For those of you keeping score, here are the most recent complaints:

It will take a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to put a water bond on the ballot. Under the best of circumstances that means some GOP votes are needed. If Northern California Democrats won’t back it, that could mean a bunch of Republican votes will have to be found.

If the bond gets on the ballot, it still needs a majority to pass. With California’s finances already in disarray, convincing voters to add more debt will take some doing.

There’s no possible water plan that’s going to leave every competing interest happy. The only hope now is to find one that can grab enough support – or at least bypass enough opposition — to make it through the Legislature and get signed by Schwarzenegger.

But as time goes on and the special interest complaints mount, the chance of finding even that minimum approval may be more hope than reality.

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.