Sunday, March 6, 2011

Budget Problems and Water: The Elephant in the Room

Budget Problems and Water: The Elephant in the Room

By Traci Sheehan
Planning and Conservation League

Teachers, firefighters and police officers know what the economy is doing to the vital services they provide. Our most vulnerable aged and disabled are literally feeling the pain of budget cuts; and everyday citizens are tightening their belts by multiple notches at a time.

However, the water establishment is acting like it is immune to federal, State and local budget retractions. Somehow despite the Congressional push for deficit reduction, the State electorate’s distaste for more bond borrowing, and local revenue constraints in the forms of Proposition 219, Proposition 26, and growing ratepayer discomfort, are not getting through.

Bureaucrats from many of the largest water interests continue to propose tens of billions of dollars of spending from myriad of funding sources including, the federal treasury, State borrowing and increased water rates to pay for new facilities and related costs.

Whether or not you agree with any of the specific projects being proposed, first you have to ask, what we can afford and what the highest priorities are for the next 5 to 10 years.

A year ago PCL published “8 Affordable Water Solutions for California.” The publication identifies three key factors driving California water management: the financial crisis, the fisheries collapse and changing hydrology. Followed by, identifying eight near-term solutions California can afford. Significant progress has been made on three of them. These need to be completed and the remaining five need to tee up as funding allows.


On Monday, the Capitol steps were flooded with legislators, safe water advocates, faith-based community members, and concerned residents, rallied together to announce a recently introduced package of bills. The bills are designed to ensure every Californian has the right to turn of their faucet and not be afraid that the water that comes out it will make them sick or that they can not afford the water.

Many are surprised when they hear more than 250,000 Californians in the Central Valley alone lack safe water for drinking, bathing, and other household needs, while many others see their water service disconnected when they cannot afford to pay their water bills. The package of bills announced on Monday will establish the right of every person to have access to clean, affordable water for basic human needs.

The Human Right to Water Bill Package includes the following bills:

AB 685 (Eng) Human Right to Water – This bill would make the human right to water a policy of the state, and five additional bills that implement the policy and promote access to safe water for the health and wellbeing of all Californians.

AB 938 (V.M. Perez) Language Access on Public Health Notifications – This bill would require the public water system provide a written and non written public notice in English, Spanish, and in the language spoken by prescribed numbers of residents of the community served, in the event the public water system does not meet safe water drinking requirements.

AB 983 (Perea) Access to Clean Up and Abatement Funding - This bill will provide clarity to existing legislation in regards to the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving
Fund, This fund continuously appropriates grants and revolving fund loans to provide for the design and construction of projects for public water systems that will enable suppliers to meet safe drinking water standards.

AB 1187 (Fong) Drinking Water Plan – In response to the changing needs of the State’s agricultural, urban and environmental water uses, this bill would require the California Water Plan to include a “Safe Drinking Water Plan.”

AB 1221 (Alejo) Drinking Water SRF – This bill would help with infrastructural projects that deliver safe drinking water and allow for responsible waste water management in rural and disadvantaged communities throughout the state.

SB 244 (Wolk) General Plans - This bill would require, upon each revision of its housing element, a city or county to review and update one or more elements of its general plan, to address pocket areas not incorporated into service areas. The bill works to ensure that these neglected unincorporated communities, are provided with the basic necessities for a safe and healthy living environment.


Traci Sheehan is the Executive Director of The Planning and Conservation League, a statewide, nonprofit lobbying organization. For more than thirty years, PCL has fought to develop a body of environmental laws in California that is the best in the United States.

Submitted by Benjamin Wilson on Sun, 03/06/2011 - 7:32am.

Additionally… “Poor families in Tulare County pay twice as much for safe water as people in many countries considered Third World, and federal officials should intervene, a United Nations lawyer said Friday. Catarina de Albuquerque, who visited the Valley this week to investigate tainted water systems, said many families in Tulare County spend more than 10% of their income on tap and bottled water, which is needed to avoid drinking chemicals from fertilizers, septic systems and dairies.” Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee

On the protected species battle…“A precipitous, decade long decline of delta smelt and salmon - resulting in two canceled commercial fishing seasons and one eight-day season - has become a rallying cry for environmentalists and fishing groups. It has also become a thorn in the side of agricultural interests that control most of the water exported from the delta and a major quandary for policymakers in the midst of crafting a management plan for the West Coast's most important estuary. A draft plan released this month by the stewardship council concluded that not all endangered fish species - delta smelt, in particular - may be saved from extinction in the wrenching battle to preserve the delta and provide a reliable water supply for California.”
Kelly Zito at

Water contractors want to de-list the smelt… A Delta Agreement to "Protect Listed Species" or another Ploy to Export More Water. It also provides time for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to improve the methodologies it uses to evaluate the impacts of the pumping on the smelt in response to a December ruling by U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger, which invalidated key parts of a much-debated plan to protect the smelt. “Legal battles concerning the decline of and protection for Delta smelt and salmon. Federal Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) pumps that export water to contractors south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are the focus of the dispute. The Court-approved settlement is being celebrated by water contractors, farmers, government officials and environmental groups as a positive development” Patrick Porgan’s commentary.

Then… The San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust is collaborating with San Joaquin River Conservancy on efforts to beautify the parkway contained in 22 miles of river in the rapidly urbanizing Fresno-Madera region using the latest grant. Part of $17.2 million allocation to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat throughout California. However lawmakers are currently making efforts to strip funding from this project as well.

But… ”On March 1st, a group of Congressmen from the Central Valley of California wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Salazar complaining about the administration of the largest single block of contract water in the federal Central Valley Project – the 2.2 million acre-feet allocated every year to the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors to grow hundreds of thousands of acres of subsidized rice and other crops in the Sacramento Valley. The letter’s authors include many of those who recently sponsored language in the House Continuing Resolution that would block protections for endangered salmon and other species in the Bay-Delta, threatening to shut down completely the massive state and federal water pumps that provide water to many of their constituents”. Kate Poole’s blog

We have hoped the tide is turning… “I don't think I've seen two public calls for cost-benefit analysis of water projects all year. Even more amazing, it is coming from sources that I usually criticize: ACWA and Rep. Tom McClintock.” Jeffery Micheal’ blog

Why Do I post this? While grass roots environmental and conservation groups make substantial gains in protecting the environment, lawmakers; with the stroke of a pen, write legislation to block and negate these efforts while continuing to more deliver water to the wealthiest of Californians. It’s absurd that our trusted public servants disregard the environment and poor communities to serve their constituents. What will California look like when economic gain triumphs environmental sustainability? I may be wrong but it will most likely look like most of Tulare, Fresno, and Madera.