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Best use of water bond money now at forefront

Three Shastas suffer through season of drought

California’s Proposition 1 passed. That’s the good news – at least tentatively.

An editorial in one northern California newspaper that went on record ahead of the November election to oppose the California water bond measure on philosophical grounds asks a very logical next question.

Now what?

While most other newspapers of stature in California endorsed the bond measure, The Chico Enterprise Record reluctantly called on voters to oppose it in an Oct. 4 editorial because of how the newspaper says the law was written.

Though the $2.75 billion in it for storage doesn’t spell it out specifically, the rumor mill suggests two popular projects – Sites Reservoir in northern California and Temperance Flat in Central California – are at the front of the line for that money.

That decision will ultimately be made by the California Water Commission, which by a simple majority vote of the nine-member board can legally give thumbs down to Sites and Temperance in favor of different projects.

That seems to be the Chico ER’s concern, which is arguably legitimate from my personal standpoint as a native northern Californian. With most of California’s voter representation outside of northern California and the majority of its water supply generated in the north it’s easy to see where the battle lines get drawn.

Another big concern gleaned from the ER’s first editorial is that Sacramento lawmakers and regulatory agencies can’t be trusted to do the right thing. There are plenty of examples of regulators and lawmakers throwing agriculture under the bus after an assurance that votes and decisions would go agriculture’s way.

Yet without voter approval of the bond, all these arguments and suppositions would be moot. That it passed gives hope to California that the right decisions will be made to benefit the entire state.

I would argue that the easy work has been completed and the heavy lifting now begins. Just because voters approved publicly funding $2.7 billion in a loosely-defined idea of water storage does not necessarily equal two surface storage facilities.

While the law does allow that money to go towards surface storage projects defined in the CALFED Bay-Delta Program Record of Decision, it also says the money can be spent on groundwater storage, groundwater contamination prevention or remediation projects that provide water storage benefits, conjunctive use and reservoir reoperation projects, and local and regional surface storage projects that improve the operation of water systems in the state and provide public benefits.

There’s a catch in the law that says projects “shall not be funded” unless they provide “measurable improvements to the Delta ecosystem or to the tributaries to the Delta.”

Those who follow the political process know the devil is always in the details and in who threatens to sue over those details.

Just because the water bond passed is no time to sit back and relax. Agriculture and its allied organizations and agencies need to develop a full-court press to ensure that all the money in this bond is used wisely to benefit all of California.

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