WATER:

Schwarzenegger presses lawmakers for infrastructure bond

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) warned Democrats in the Legislature today that he won't sign a major water reform bill that ignores new storage infrastructure.

In a letter to Democratic leaders, Schwarzenegger applauded the consensus building behind a package of five water bills on the move here meant to address water shortages. But he said the package fails to directly address construction of new dams and reservoirs or how to fund them.

"I cannot sign a comprehensive water package if it fails to include a water infrastructure bond that expands our water storage capacity," Schwarzenegger wrote.

His comments come as lawmakers work on five bills promoted by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D) and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D) as their answer for restoring the ailing Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta ecosystem and improving water deliveries to farmers in the state.

Lawmakers returned to session today after its recess with 25 days left to wrap up bills for the year. With the budget behind them, the package of water bills has become the focus in the state capital as the agriculture community continues to struggle with rising unemployment and a third straight year of drought.

As Schwarzenegger issued his warning, lawmakers were holding a joint Senate-Assembly hearing on the bills. The five measures in question would establish a seven-member governance council to cut red tape on water management and mandate 20 percent conservation in urban areas, among other proposals.

But the administration has been quick to note the lack of a water bond. An attempt by Schwarzenegger, with the support of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), to push a $9 billion bond onto the state ballot fell short last year, but the governor appears to believe the year-end push represents a second chance.

Lester Snow, director of the state's Department of Water Resources and a key Schwarzenegger adviser, referenced the warning today and told lawmakers the omission of a bond could kill the whole package.

"It has to have a bond as part of this package," Snow testified. "It's not acceptable to put these programs out and not have a method for funding."

The package does not explicitly back any of the various proposals for new infrastructure, among them a peripheral canal around the delta or new dams south and north of the delta. Bill sponsors have argued that the seven-member council would be authorized to pursue new projects.

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