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California water bond bill passes Senate committee, still has hurdles to overcome to meet “aquapocalypse” deadline

California now has seven bills under consideration that could replace the water bond slated for the November 2014 ballot, but one has risen to the top.  On March 25, 2014, the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee passed AB 1331, authored by Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee Chairman Anthony Rendon (D–Lakewood) on a 7-2 vote.

The bill, now known as the Clean, Safe and Reliable Drinking Water Act of 2014, was amended in early March from a $6.5 billion proposal to an $8 billion proposal.  The $1.5 billion increase reflects increases of $1 billion for water storage and $500 million for regional climate change response.

Overall the bill includes:

  • $1 billion to maintain and improve drinking water quality
  • $1.5 billion to protect rivers and watersheds
  • $2 billion to fund integrated regional water management projects that respond to climate change
  • $1 billion to protect the Delta
  • $2.5 billion to fund water storage projects

Chairman Rendon stresses that the bill has no earmarked projects.  One of the primary criticisms against the current bond measure is the prevalence of earmarked “pork” projects.

Rendon also emphasizes that the stakeholders and the public have had the opportunity to influence changes to the bill stating that “AB 1331 was crafted—and continues to evolve—as a product of the most ethical, inclusive and transparent process ever applied to a state water bond by the Legislature.”  As evidence for his of transparency, he cites the numbers of public hearings, legislator briefings and rounds of public comments, as well as the development of a working group to set spending priorities and increase accountability and the posting of relevant information on the Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee website.

AB 1331 is the only water bond bill to have passed in the house of origin—and has trumped that milestone by passing a policy committee in the second house.  But it still must be passed by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee and the Senate Floor and be signed by the governor by June 26 to replace the bond measure currently on the ballot—a deadline Rendon is calling “aquapocalypse.”

While the progress of AB 1331 offers a glimmer of hope to those who are critical of the current bond measure, columnist Dan Walters does not have such a rosy view.  He argues that the bill has a tough road ahead, citing legislative discord over the appropriate size for a water bond and details over what types of projects should be pursued.

Other water bond bills under consideration include:

SB 927 which would reduce the current bond to $9.217 billion

AB 2043 which would reduce the current bond to $7.935 billion

SB 848 which would reduce the current bond to $6.825 billion

SB 1370 which was amended on March 24 to reduce the current bond to $6.26 billion (an earlier version would have reduced it to $5.1 billion)

AB 1445 which would reduce the current bond to $5.8 billion

AB 2686 which thanks to a March 25 amendment would repeal the existing $11.14 billion bond and would authorize issuing a bond for “an unspecified amount” (an earlier version would have reduced the existing bond to $9.25 billion)

Written by Marta Weismann