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Speakers tout storage during Calif. water meeting

Tim Hearden
Farmers, water district officials and others pleaded with a California Assembly committee on Dec. 4 to add more water storage in an updated bond measure set to go before voters next November. The panel is holding meetings around the state to gather input.

REDDING, Calif. — Farmers, water district officials and others packed a hearing Dec. 4 to beseech an Assembly committee to include plenty of money for water storage in an updated bond measure set to go before voters next year.

Members of the lower legislative house’s Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, led by chairman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, were gathering input here on what should be in the bond measure as a bill is proceeding in Sacramento.

“Water shouldn’t be a partisan issue. There are solutions,” said Ed McLaughlin, an almond and walnut grower who serves on a fair board in Butte County. McLaughlin said dams provide a resource for agriculture as well as power and flood protection.

During the nearly three-hour meeting that drew a standing-room-only audience to the Shasta County supervisors’ chambers, Rendon, Northern California Republican Brian Dahle and two other legislators heard a presentation from Fritz Durst, who chairs the Sites Reservoir Joint Powers Authority, on that proposed project west of Maxwell, Calif.

Among the other ideas mentioned by speakers were fuels-reduction measures to improve the health of forests and meadows above California’s reservoirs and measures to remove mercury and other pollutants from water.

“There’s a sense that everything above the dam just kind of happens,” said Jim Branham, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy’s executive officer. “That’s led to an underinvestment in these areas … Our watersheds are not healthy and our meadows are not healthy.”

Branham noted that this summer’s Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park burned about 100,000 acres at high intensity, leaving no vegetation behind. That leads to heavy winter erosion and siltation of reservoirs, which reduces their capacity, he said.

California’s water system serves about 30 million people and irrigates nearly 6 million acres of farmland, Rendon explained in opening remarks. Federal water quality standards are not being met in over half the state’s 3 million acres of lakes, streams and rivers, he said.

The state last passed a water bond in 2006. In 2009, the Legislature voted to place an $11.1 billion water bond on the ballot in 2010, but the initiative was delayed twice because supporters feared it wouldn’t get enough public support to pass.

Lawmakers are back at the drawing board with Assembly Bill 1331, which tasks state agencies with determining current needs with the intent of reducing or amending the bond measure now set for the November 2014 ballot, according to an Assembly bill analysis. The Dec. 4 hearing was one of four that Rendon’s committee was holding around the state to gather input.

Online

Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee: http://awpw.assembly.ca.gov





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