Lawmakers Seek Vote on $15B Calif. Water Plan

     SACRAMENTO (CN) — California lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a bill that would put on hold Gov. Jerry Brown’s contentious $15 billion water plan unless it gets approval from voters.
     The bill is one of several challenges to the California WaterFix. Along with voter approval, it would require the state to perform and release a cost-benefit analysis.
     The Bay Delta Conservation Plan would build massive, 30-mile-long twin tunnels underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The state released a 48,000-page environmental impact report on the giant Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Peripheral Canal last year.
     Critics and environmentalists called it a boondoggle that will not produce additional water, and demanded a detailed financial analysis.
      Assembly Bill 1713 , by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, would prohibit construction of the peripheral canal without voter approval.
     In pitching her bill to the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife, Eggman called the governor’s plan “archaic” and “harebrained.” She demanded cheaper alternatives such as new reservoirs and stormwater collection programs.
     “I don’t know that we still need to stick to a plan made in the 1960s to build tunnels to transport the water from one part of the state to another,” Eggman said.
     She reminded her fellow committee members that Californians overwhelmingly rejected a similar plan in 1982, and said voters should have final say on the updated tunnels project — not the fourth-term governor.
     Dozens of water agencies and labor unions oppose Eggman’s bill, including the heavy-hitting Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — the largest supplier of drinking water in the nation — which is largely invested in the project.
     Last week the Met agreed to buy a string of Delta islands for $175 million, to increase its claim to the important watershed before the tunnel project begins.
     The Delta supplies water to an estimated 25 million Californians and is the main source of water for the state’s $54 billion agricultural industry.
     The project has been in the works since 2006 and Brown has said that if it is abandoned, Silicon Valley and Southern California would be dealt a “body blow.”
     Cesar Diaz, legislative director of the State Building and Construction Trades Council, warned that sending the giant infrastructure project to voters could set a “bad precedent” for future infrastructure plans. If the project lands on a statewide ballot, it could allow outside advocacy groups and lobbyists to bombard voters with advertisements, he said.
     Though AB 1713 passed the committee 8-2 with bipartisan support, even if it eventually clears the Legislature, it would likely be vetoed by Brown.
     Nonetheless, Brown’s water plan could still be stymied by a proposition on the November ballot. The measure, led by wealthy Stockton-area farmer Dean Cortopassi, calls for public works projects costing $2 billion or more to be approved by voters.
     The “ No Blank Checks Initiative ” has drawn intense opposition from construction trade groups and labor unions.
     Also Tuesday, the committee rejected another bill that could have significantly stalled the tunnels project: Assembly Bill 2583 . It would require water suppliers to sign contracts with the state before tunnel construction could begin, and required additional environmental studies on the Delta project.
     Opponents said AB 2583 would give veto power to individual water agencies if they didn’t agree to state contracts, and create more roadblocks for the California WaterFix.
     Eggman’s proposal will go to an Assembly appropriations committee before a likely Assembly floor vote.

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