Brown Wades Into Water Bond Debate

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Gov. Jerry Brown.(Randy Pench/Sacramento Bee/MCT via Getty Images)
Gov. Jerry Brown (Randy Pench/Sacramento Bee/MCT via Getty Images)

Gov. Jerry Brown is wading into the debate over a multibillion-dollar water bond.

In a letter to campaign supporters, Brown called the $11 billion bond measure currently slated for the November ballot “a pork-laden water bond … with a price tag beyond what’s reasonable or affordable.”

He’s calling on legislators to replace it with a $6 billion proposal. Until Tuesday, the Democrat’s public comments on water bonds had been coy at best.

Brown’s move comes about a week before the presumed deadline to pass a new plan. There’s no hard date that lawmakers need to send a bond to Brown by -- the technical deadline came and went more than a month ago -- but after early August it becomes increasingly difficult to swap out ballot measures without throwing a major wrench in voter information pamphlets, ballot printing and other official steps.

Before legislators left for their July recess, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg pegged Aug. 11 -- next Monday -- as the last feasible day to pass a spending plan.


“We don’t want to have to wait until the end of August and have a description of the old bond in the ballot pamphlet while the measure is off the ballot," Steinberg said. "That would be confusing to people."

Brown’s proposal is about $1.5 billion below the last Senate proposal. And that difference has legislative leaders asking for more. Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) issued a statement saying she was "concerned that (Brown's) $6 billion proposal would ultimately be too small to meet the state’s dire needs."

Brown's plan would spend $2 billion on water storage projects like new reservoirs. That’s below the $3 billion line in the sand that Senate Republicans have said needs to be met before they give support to a bond, which would need two-thirds support to pass.

The governor’s plan would spend just $175 million on “ecosystem restoration and science” in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Delta restoration funding has been a major sticking point in bond negotiations. Opponents of Brown’s controversial plan to build two 30-mile tunnels in the delta see restoration and ecosystem mitigation as a critical step toward the eventual approval of the tunnel plan, and have pushed to minimize the bond’s funding for environmental efforts. Earlier bond proposals would have spent more than $500 million on delta restoration, so it seems the push has been successful.

Brown’s proposal would spend $450 million on groundwater sustainability projects. The current drought has led to a major depletion of California’s aquifers, and pushed groundwater regulation and management to the forefront.

“Water is central to our lives, our wildlife and our food supply.” Brown’s letter concludes, “Our economy depends on it. We must act now so that we can continue to manage as good stewards of this vital resource for generations to come. But we can and must do so without returning California to the days of overwhelming deficit and debt.”