California is an immensely diverse and complex state, making governance an enormous challenge.
No issue illustrates that diversity of views and challenge of governance more than water policy — an issue that has produced huge conflicts and little progress over the past 30 years.
Successful negotiation of a comprehensive water compromise — one that would benefit our entire state — was viewed by many as an impossible feat this year. This week, the Legislature was able to break through all of the barriers, uniting a diverse and bipartisan coalition behind a landmark water solution. As Assembly minority leader and a member of the Big 5, I found myself front and center in these difficult and delicate negotiations.
The deal that we brokered is comprehensive and creates a far-reaching vision for providing clean water, healthy ecosystems, as well as regional water solutions across the state. It will provide greater water supply and will promote our equal goals of economic development and environmental sustainability. This plan is full of short-term and long-range solutions to the 40-year-old problems that have contributed to California’s water crisis for decades.
The centerpiece of the package is an $11.1 billion investment in water infrastructure. This measure, if approved by voters, will dedicate funds toward new water storage and conveyance, Delta restoration and ecosystem protection and water conservation and recycling projects.
The deal also includes policy changes that will reduce per-capita water use by 20 percent by 2020, help streamline new water delivery and penalize those who illegally diverting water. Throughout the negotiations, I fought hard to ensure that we protected existing water rights, prevented provisions that could launch future frivolous lawsuits and avoided the unnecessary expansion of government regulatory power.
As a result of this package, in future years we should no longer have to watch excess storm waters flood communities and wash out to sea due to lack of storage. In years of drought, we should be able to avoid draconian water rationing that effectively shuts down farms and businesses and hurts jobs. And, we should be able to restore fragile estuaries so that federal courts can lift restrictions on Delta pumping.
In addition to improving the 40 percent unemployment rates in the water-starved Central Valley and other rural and agricultural areas, this package will benefit housing and business projects in cities and suburbs that also depend on water for jobs. We will also protect and restore the Delta and fragile other waterways and watersheds statewide.
California’s water infrastructure was originally built for 16 million people. The bond investments expected to go before voters next November would allow us to upgrade our system for the 38 million residents we have today, and the 50 million forecasters expect to see in the coming years.
I am proud to be a co-author of this bipartisan solution that helps plan for California’s future.
While the negotiations were contentious at times, which is inevitable when the stakes are so high, they were productive in the end.
The people of California are the winners with this historic water agreement — one that will provide for a safe reliable drinking supply, job creation, and a healthier ecosystem for future generations.