Funding will likely include combination of user fees, bonds

By WES SANDER

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO -- Lawmakers have spent much of the past week negotiating a package of water bills left unfinished in September, hoping to hammer out a deal that the legislature could approve in the next few days.

The bills are aimed at restructuring the governance and management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta while improving water delivery.

The package would include new storage infrastructure, but lawmakers have yet to finalize how it would be funded.

Meanwhile, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer on Oct. 1 released a debt report recommending that water infrastructure not be funded with bonds backed by the general fund.

"Further increasing the general fund's debt burden, especially in the next three difficult budgets, would require cutting even deeper into crucial services already reeling from billions of dollars in reductions," he said in a statement.

Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, said Lockyer's recommendation clashes with the progress legislators have made toward negotiating a general-obligation bond.

"I don't think there's any other way to do it, frankly," Cogdill said. "(Lockyer's comment) certainly is out of step with things we've done."

Cogdill, the GOP leader on water issues in the Senate, has introduced a $12 billion water bond that would be backed entirely by the general fund. It allocates $3 billion for new storage projects, which are expected to cost $8 billion. The remaining $5 billion would be paid by user fees, Cogdill says.

Future governors and lawmakers should be able to handle the resulting debt load with proper planning, Cogdill said.

"I think that legislatures in the future are going to have to make some hard decisions about priorities," he said. "I don't believe there's anything more important for our state than making the kind of improvements we're talking about in water infrastructure."

Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, has sponsored the Democratic water bill, which Cogdill says is "practically identical" to his own.

She has said she would support a combination of general-obligation debt and user fees.

"As long as it's something that's fair to all parties, it's something that should be considered," said Aracely Campa, spokeswoman for Caballero. "I think that we're definitely going to have to get creative."

Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, who sits on the conference committee that hashed out the water bills in August and September, says direct beneficiaries should pay for any new infrastructure, including storage, that would help to reliably send water south.

That said, Aanestad says north-state residents are willing to share in the cost for new infrastructure with an eye to securing area-of-origin water rights in the future. That's because a reliable water-conveyance system reduces chances of future legal challenges to the century-old water rights held by many north-state landowners, Aanestad says.

"We don't benefit at all from increased storage, we have all the water we need," Aanestad said. "(But) I can't think of anybody who does not benefit from increased storage and a better delivery system."

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