Water funding clogged: Politics, red tape slow spending of 2006 bonds

first_imgIn the special session, Schwarzenegger is asking lawmakers to place an additional $10 billion in water bonds on the 2008 ballot. But that proposal has stalled in the Legislature as Democrats dispute the need to spend billions of dollars on additional dam- and water-storage projects. Compromise offered Schwarzenegger has recently offered to compromise by cutting about $1.5billion from his original proposal for water storage, but Democrats have not responded. “California voters have approved more than $14billion in bonds to address water and environmental issues in the last 10 years,” Schwarzenegger said. “Billions of dollars were directly aimed at projects designed to address the crisis in the delta. “Yet the delta is in worse shape today than it was a decade ago. Throwing more money at the problem without addressing the fundamental issues to fix the delta will only allow the crisis to worsen.” Schwarzenegger said that with the risk of water rationing and rate increases on the horizon across the state, quick action is needed. But Perata said he is frustrated that the governor’s veto has stalled spending of previous bonds. “I was very upset and I still, to this moment, do not understand why you ask voters to give approval to spend money to protect their water system, which we did with Prop. 1E, and then when we want to appropriate the money, he vetoes the bill,” Perata said. “I don’t know how you go back to the voters and say: Give us more authority.” Mark Cowin, deputy director for regional water planning and management at the state Department of Water Resources, said several factors have stalled allocation of water-bond money. “I’m sure many are as frustrated as we are that we can’t move on these projects quicker,” Cowin said. Cowin said disagreements have arisen with the Legislature over spelling out how to spend the money. And he said once the Legislature passes appropriations, and the governor signs them, the department has to draft guidelines on how the money can be distributed. Often it is spent through a competitive-grant process, meaning the department first has to draft guidelines for local agencies seeking the money. Then, the actual grant process itself takes time. Proposition 84 was designed to provide $5.4 billion in bonds to fund water quality, flood control and resource protection projects; Proposition 1E was to provide $4.1billion for flood control and water supply projects. But so far, just about $588 million from Proposition 1E has been committed to specific projects; and just $1.7 billion from Proposition 84. Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at California State University, Sacramento, said voters may have a difficult time approving additional water bonds. O’Connor said she has talked to several water agency officials who are concerned that the funds are “languishing.” H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the governor’s Department of Finance, said he does not believe that spending on water projects has been slow. He said the governor already provided about $400 million in the 2007-08 general fund to jump-start flood-control projects rather than waiting for bond funds. “We didn’t want to wait for another potential flood season to get that work done,” Palmer said. But the debate over additional water bonds comes as many water agencies are struggling with dry conditions and looking ahead to an increasingly difficult future. With traditional supplies hit by drought and strained by growing populations, most water agencies are focused on increasing conservation rather than developing new sources of imported water. Drought and federal restrictions have severely limited the amount of water Southern California can access from the Colorado River, while the snowpack in the Sierras is far below normal this year. Also, a court decision aimed at protecting the endangered delta smelt has restricted the amount of water that can be pumped through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The Metropolitan Water District now serves about 18million people in Southern California and expects to serve about 25million by 2030. But the district is not anticipating importing any more water from outside sources. Instead, it is hoping to serve those additional 7million people with roughly the same amount of imported water – through increased efforts at conservation, efficiency and reclamation. Eventually, there may also be the need for forced rationing measures and a likely increase in water rates. Similarly, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has increasingly relied on conservation measures to supply a growing population. The DWP increased its reliance on the MWD this year because of the shrinking Sierra snowpack, but also has significant supplies of groundwater in the San Fernando Valley. Despite serving an additional 1 million customers, Los Angeles uses about the same amount of water as it did 25 years ago, thanks to conservation measures, said DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo. But if the Sierra snowpack does not improve this winter, the DWP might look toward prohibiting more types of water uses. Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, said he is satisfied with how the state has been allocating funds. The state water supply is not in a desperate situation, he said, though it is getting closer. “Water managers in Southern California are sitting on top of several million acre-feet of stored water,” Quinn said. “From a myopic perspective, their canoe is not going over the waterfall just yet. On the other hand, the canoe is at a very fast current and the waterfall is visible.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! SACRAMENTO – While California voters approved $9.5 billion in bonds to improve the state’s water infrastructure last year, little of that money has been allocated despite a lengthy drought and growing strains on the system. Political infighting and bureaucratic red tape have slowed spending of the 2006 water bonds, even as state lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger consider asking voters for billions of dollars in additional water bonds on next year’s ballot. Only about 14 percent of the Proposition 1E water bond approved by voters last year – and about one-third of the Proposition 84 water bond – have been committed to specific projects. And within Proposition 84, only about 9 percent of the funds dedicated specifically to water quality and supply projects – as opposed to flood control – have been committed. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREStriving toward a more perfect me: Doug McIntyre “A lot of (Southern California water agencies) are very hopeful that Proposition 84 will result in money for local projects, but so far we’re still waiting for some of the legislation,” said Jeff Kightlinger, CEO of the Metropolitan Water District. “It’s been a little slow getting Prop. 84 dollars out the door.” By comparison, more than 40 percent of the transportation-bond dollars approved on the same November 2006 ballot has already been allocated. Last month, Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, that would have directed spending $611 million from last year’s water bonds. In his veto, the governor said he wanted to wait until a more comprehensive solution to the state’s water crisis is crafted during the current special legislative session. last_img read more