Calif. Dems Won’t Fast-Track New Reservoirs

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – A historic drought and an emotional pre-hearing rally Monday were not enough to convince California lawmakers to advance legislation that would fast-track the construction of two new reservoirs.
     California Republicans proposed AB 311, which would have trimmed the environmental review process to allow two proposed water-storage projects to begin sooner.
     For the second time in a month, the Assembly’s natural resources committee voted down the bill over concerns about streamlining the standard environmental review process.
     Chairman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, recommended the committee vote against the bill, saying it wasn’t specific enough to warrant an expedited environmental review.
     “It’s not good policy to shortcut environmental review and give preferential treatment in the courts to water-storage projects,” Williams said.
     The bill was part of the “GrowTogetherCA” legislative package introduced by Republicans to address California’s infrastructure problems.
     Republicans, farmers and business leaders held a rally Monday urging the committee to advance the bill, displaying dead almond trees and bags of almonds as visual aids of the drought’s affects on farmers.
     Many farmers and Republicans have been critical of water-storage projects being held up by legislative delays, and they say Democrats have contributed to California’s dire water shortage.
     “If the Legislature is willing to grant the Sacramento Kings arena expedited environmental review, then surely we should grant it to crucial water-storage projects, which benefit all Californians,” Rep. James Gallagher, R-Nicolaus, said during the rally.
     On Friday, the State Water Resources Board announced curtailments to Central Valley farmers, saying the San Joaquin and Scott River watersheds are too dry to satisfy diversion demands for the second consecutive year.
     The Natural Resources Committee seats six Democrats and three Republicans, and AB 311 received just three yes votes. While funding for water-storage projects was included in the $7.5 billion bond approved by voters in November, the money won’t be available until December 2016.
     Republicans say drought-inspired AB 311 would have streamlined the construction of two reservoirs that would combine to provide more than a million acre-feet of water to Californians and would help maintain water salinity in the Delta.
     “No civilized society seeks to destroy its own food supply or economic strengths, but that’s exactly where government water policies in California are headed,” said Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto.
     In a meeting with mayors from across the Golden State on Tuesday, however, Gov. Jerry Brown said he will propose legislation to streamline environmental permitting for critical water-supply projects on a local level.
     Brown said the legislation will reduce the amount of time local water agencies spend trying to comply with the state’s quagmire of environmental rules.
     Other legislation Brown plans to propose will give local authorities the power to stop water wasters, and would expand fines from the current $500 per day to up to $10,000 per violation.

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