California Water Wars Rage On

Activists square off against legislature over AB 2775

Representatives of the No on the Water Bond Coalition slammed California’s AB 2775, an alleged “fix” of the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010, after the bill passed out of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee on June 22.

“AB 2775 is no fix at all,” said Tina Andolina of the Planning and Conservation League. “Tinkering around the edges won’t fix this bond. This measure does not truly address the problem that the bond will allow private companies to profit as taxpayers foot the bill. We will see water privatization on an even larger scale if the bond passes, and this bill does nothing to address the problem.”

AB 2775 makes technical changes to the 2010 Water Bond, passed by the Legislature in November 2009 and scheduled to go to the voters in the November 2010 election.

Democratic Senator Jared Huffman and Republican Dave Cogdill, who rarely agree about anything with respect to water, coauthored the bill Huffman said would achieve a “narrow point of consensus,” a “surgical change.”

The bill deletes a section in the proposed water act that would authorize a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) that owns and operates a surface storage reservoir partially funded with public bond funds to include private members with equity participation, according to Senator Cogdill’s office.

“By removing this provision, AB 2775 clarifies two issues,” said a Cogdill staffer. “First, Section 79749 (b) allows private partners with equity shares in surface storage reservoirs that are in part publicly funded. Removing this provision resolves potential confusion with other provisions in the 2010 Water Bond that require public funds be used only for public benefit. Second, deleting Section 79749(b) clarifies that JPAs should include public agency members.”

However, Deborah Davis of the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water emphasized that the bill deals with none of the water bond’s fundamental problems.

“California is facing a crushing $19 billion budget deficit, $83.5 billion in long-term bond debt, and legislative gridlock, yet our politicians hatched this massive, fundamentally flawed, $11 billion water bond behind closed doors and loaded it up with billions of dollars in pork,” said Davis. “AB 2775 takes none of the pork out of the water bond and is nothing more than a minor cosmetic change to an ugly package.”

“Wonky policy tweaks cannot change the fact that this bond asks the taxpayers to come up with an extra billion dollars a year in the middle of a massive recession to pay for projects that would do little, if anything, to increase the state’s supply of clean and reliable water,” added Jim Metropulos of the Sierra Club California.

Senator Lois Wolk, who cast the lone no vote against the bill, described the bill as “lipstick on a pig.” “This won’t eliminate the possibility of gaming the system,” said Wolk.

The bill has an urgency clause, but Jane Wagner-Tyack of the Restore the Delta campaign asked, “Why the urgency?”

“In a deeply flawed water bond, the joint powers provision is one of the deepest flaws,” she stated. “Organizations opposing the water bond have noted that this provision would open the gate for more entities like the Kern Water Bank, where private investors profit from public infrastructure investments. The legislature wants to get it out of the water bond before the Secretary of State prepares the measure for the November ballot.”

She emphasized that the “real problem” is with Section 6252 of the Government Code, which allows mutual water companies to enter into joint powers agreements with public agencies.

“For example, Westside Mutual Water Company is the entity that allows Stewart Resnick to control the Kern Water Bank,” Wagner-Tyack explained. “Removing the reference to nongovernmental partners from the bond won’t eliminate mutual water companies or change the Government Code.”

Wagner-Tyack said AB 2775 will require a two-thirds vote to pass in the legislature and will also undergo a fiscal committee review.

Opponents of the water bond believe that it is part and parcel of an effort to build a peripheral canal to facilitate water exports to corporate agribusiness and southern California water districts. The peripheral canal/tunnel is estimated to cost anywhere from $23 billion to $53.8 billion at a time when California is in its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

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