As multiple competing efforts to replace the 2014 Water Bond on the fall ballot stall, the governor has introduced a fiscally responsible proposal.

In the parlance of government, a billion here or there and soon we will be talking about real money. But in the efforts to legislate, compiling enough support often requires inclusion of a little something here or there, garnering enough votes to bring about success. Supporting and passing an $11 billion or $12 billion bond is simply not consistent with the new “fiscally disciplined California.”

Call it California dreaming, but we need a water bond to move the statewide priorities forward. The long-term debt obligation of a $6 billion to $7 billion effort is significant, but within the fiscal prudence of even Jerry Brown. We are in a severe drought – and not out of the woods of a severe economic recession – and responsible water agencies have made significant efforts to help themselves and may need a hand-up while others wait for the handout.

Governance is all about setting priorities, and our Legislature is experiencing so many challenges that the keen eye that’s needed to sort through complex water issues may have developed a cataract or two, thus obscuring the clarity needed to set priorities and provide the right level of response addressing California’s water needs.

With current supply shortages common and more projected into the future, we need a water program that delivers effective results like a hand-up. The state agencies, which oversee the planning, coordination and delivery of the projects, are not up to the task of addressing the task without solid priorities. It is not a simple equation of balancing environment, ag or urban; the matrix and calculus is not static. Water quality, hydrology, hydrogeneration, recreation and land-use (to name a few) all influence the delivery time and form this complex water web supporting our economy and quality of life for all of California.

Yes, more storage is essential, but we need a portfolio of storage options to consider. With adaptive management practices (code word for uncertainty) laced in nearly all contemporary planning efforts, the series of projects needed to fulfill the program must be constantly monitored and adjusted. Increasing water reuse and conservation is required, with an interactive and coordinated effort ensuring “real water” is made available on time, commensurate with the investments. If our headwaters (the supply) are going to be resilient, we need more intense management tailored to meet the needs of the watershed, not the loose sport of developing and floating projects to see if they will fund. Facing uncertainty of climate change, the traditional linear programmatic development and delivery of projects will not likely produce the projects in sync with the adaptive management approach.

As the governor steps up to deliver the “right-size” of our much needed water bond, controlling the spending with an accreditation protocol or monitoring mechanism to ensure the results are consistent with the expectations in a dynamic world should be the Legislature’s contribution to produce a bond all of California can support.

Mitch Dion is the former general manager of the Calaveras County Water District.

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