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Senators Call For Equity and Competitiveness in New Water Bond Allocation

The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee passed a proposed $3.5 billion water and parks bond measure Tuesday, with members calling for an assurance that if approved by California voters in 2018, the funds would be equitably distributed throughout the state.

The bond, Senate Bill 5 by Sen. Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, includes $500 million for flood protection investments that were just added after the recent floods to address the state’s urgent needs. Committee member Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, whose district remains mired in drought, said it’s important that part of the $1.5 billion in the bond for water programs not bypass her constituents.

“My concern is that this money is going to be spent appropriately in all parts of the state,” she said.

The money in SB 5 would supplement existing water programs funded by Prop. 1, the $7.5 billion water bond approved by voters in 2014. A balance of $1.2 billion remains available from Prop. 1.

“Your area would do quite well in competing for that,” Kip Lipper, De León’s chief policy advisor for energy and environment, told Jackson during the hearing.

SB 5 includes $375 million for aid to communities with contaminated water supplies, $375 million for integrated regional water management plans, urban and agricultural water conservation and stormwater management, and $375 million to prevent or reduce groundwater contamination.

The $500 million in flood funds, which De León inserted after the winter onslaught, are designated for levee repair and restoration within the Sacramento- San Joaquin Delta and stormwater, mudslides and other flash flood related protections.

“The proposed allocations for water and flood reflect the urgent need to continue California’s commitment to provide clean drinking water to all communities in the state, as well as to continue to focus resources on groundwater cleanup and stormwater management,” a committee analysis says. “These programs will contribute greatly to creating space below ground for future storage projects as well as continuing the progress California is making in collecting and re-using stormwater.”

The analysis notes that while fixing the damaged spillway at Lake Oroville is the responsibility of the state water contractors, “the recent rains highlighted the needs to enhance levees particularly around urban areas, in the Delta, and to continue the state’s work to build setback levees which give rivers more space during heavy flows.”

Committee member Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, said a mechanism needs to be in the bond that promotes equity and competiveness.

“I don’t want communities in need left out just because they don’t have the capacity,” he said. “It’s a big lift and there are a lot of stakeholders. I hope at the end … everyone will push in the same direction.”

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