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State now CALFED water `owner'

California governor says failure not an option in crisis waiting to happen

California has taken "ownership" of CALFED, the ambitious political framework of all the state's water stakeholders laboriously seeking a solution to California's water crisis waiting to happen.

And, according to Linda Adams, Gray Davis, the governor of the No. 1 agricultural and most populous state in the nation, doesn't care which administration finally settles into the White House, CALFED will succeed because of that state ownership.

Adams is the key staff person in the governor's office on agricultural and water issues. She was involved in the contentious and "painful" negotiations with Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt that resulted in an agreement earlier this year between five federal and two state agencies that lays the groundwork to restore the California Bay Delta ecosystem while at the same time meet California's growing water needs.

"Gov. Davis is committed to agriculture and is committed to CALFED and does not want to fail in solving California's water crisis. There is too much at stake to fail," Adams told attentive vegetable growers and shippers at the annual Western Growers Association convention held recently in Tucson, Ariz.

She told those representing the majority of fresh vegetable production in the nation that CALFED is "on track. There have been setbacks, but they have not been fatal."

She and the others speakers at the workshop "Water: How to Keep It Flowing" said the success of CALFED rests squarely on the shoulders of California politicians and water stakeholders, and not on the federal government.

Local decisions Richard Moss, general manager of the Friant Water Users Authority in the San Joaquin Valley and Stephen Hall, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, said the decision-making process must rest locally in California.

"We do not want the federal government to make decisions" on California's water future, said Hall. "Only two dams have been built in California in the past 30 years, and they were both local projects."

Hall remains optimistic Californians can solve the water crisis. CALFED is "ponderous and far from perfect," but he believes the support of more water storage facilities from moderate Democrats like Davis and U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein is the key to getting more water for urban and ag users while protecting the ecosystem of the California Delta.

"There are more Democrats in control in California than Republicans," noted Hall.

Hall commended Davis for weighing into California's water debate in his first term. He did not expect it. Most agriculturists have admitted a surprise at Davis' support of agriculture and his balanced approach to solving the impending water crisis.

"It is not just heroic. Gov. Davis understands California is living on borrowed time" with six straight, unprecedented wet years. And, yet water supplies to many water users have been cut by 50 percent during these years as a result of efforts to restore fisheries after the last drought.

Since 1992, Hall said fish have gained two million acre feet of water through political decisions and new laws like the Central Valley Improvement Act. "That is almost as much as is delivered by the State Water Project annually," said Hall.

Without some additional storage or other new sources of water, the next drought will result in no water for the Southern San Joaquin Valley. "The fish will definitely be better off during the next drought," said Hall.

All three panelists are hoping for a "balanced" solution to the Delta as Davis has promised that, according to Hall. "We want to work with Gov. Davis to keep his promises."

Hall, whose organization represents 442 urban and agricultural water agencies, said CALFED is an issue that will impact all of the state, not just farming. Without new sources of water, places like the Silicon Valley may not have a supply of water during the next drought.

"The only imponderable is will the politicians pull the trigger on new water storage when the time comes. They have not for 30 years," said Hall.

Those opposed to new storage say conservation is the key to new water sources. Hall countered both cities and agriculture have responded to that challenge.

"There have been extraordinary gains in conservation in both cities and farming," he said "Agriculture is using the same amount of water it was 25 years ago and producing twice as much. Southern Californians are using the same amount of water they were 25 years ago and have kept up with the population growth.

"However, farmers can only install a drip system once and you can only put a low flow toilet in a house once," noted Hall. The solution now to the growing water crisis is more water supplies.

Hall and Adams acknowledged that more dams is a long term solution, but the next drought could be next year. They said the $180 million in funds approved by voters in Proposition 13 is to fund short-term solutions and it is already being used for that purpose.

"Mother Nature will determine how fast California's new water infrastructure will be built," said Moss.

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