Costing $11 billion, California measure called 'bloated'

By WES SANDER

Capital Press

California State Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, has criticized the historic water legislation reached by state lawmakers last month for failing to guarantee new water supplies.

Denham, who represents Central Coast and San Joaquin Valley agricultural areas, echoed the criticism the plan has so far attracted. While farm groups and cities have praised the plan for its policy, many have criticized its inclusion of a large bond measure, $11.1 billion for water conservation and storage, as a weight that could sink the plan.

The bond must survive as a 2010 ballot measure, and critics have pointed out voters' likely reluctance to support it, given ongoing economic straits.

"It's a damn shame that we have one shot to get a water bond passed while the state is focused on this issue, but what we got is a bloated $11.14 billion bond instead of a straightforward $3 billion surface water storage bond," Denham said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said his budget proposal next year could reflect a budget deficit of more than $14 billion.

The governor held a series of signing ceremonies in the past week at water facilities in Los Angeles, Friant and San Jose, praising the legislation as a historic achievement.

But beyond the bond, Denham criticized the legislation's policy, too, saying new bureaucracies would reduce local control of water while possessing power to confiscate water rights. Ag groups have praised the bills as a successful balance between interests, including those of water rights holders.

Denham attacked the legislation for not guaranteeing dam funding. The state's water needs require one of two proposed storage projects, Denham said -- either Sites Reservoir in Colusa County or a dam at Temperance Flat, in Fresno and Madera counties.

The water bond "will be paid for by all of us (and our children and grandchildren) for years to come and will do very little to actually help California's overall water situation," Denham said.

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