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California legislators put re-worked water bond on November ballot

After literally years of discussions, and with a deadline only hours away, California lawmakers forged a compromise the night of Aug. 13 to put a more than $7 billion water bond on the November ballot.

The compromise was reached just hours before the midnight deadline imposed to grant sufficient time for ballots to be printed and mailed prior to the election.

One of the major discussion points was the amount of the bond that would be devoted to building new surface water storage. The final compromise includes $2.7 billion to construct two new dams within the state, which agricultural interests believe is critical for maintaining a viable industry at its current level.

The California Legislature initially passed legislation creating the bond initiative in 2009 when Arnold Schwarzenegger was the governor. At that time, it was an $11 billion bond.

However, the downturn in the economy and polling indicating a lack of support for the measure caused the legislature to pull the bond from the ballot in both 2010 and 2012. That $11 billion bond was once again slated to appear on the November ballot of 2014. But again, proponents believed that a bond measure of that magnitude would have trouble passing.

Gov. Jerry Brown and key legislators have been negotiating the current bond iteration for several months. The final version calls for $2.7 billion dedicated to construction of dams, reservoirs and other water-storage solutions. In addition, projects to protect and restore rivers, lakes and watersheds will get $1.5 billion. Another $900 million will be allocated to groundwater cleanup and sustainability; $810 million to drought preparedness; $725 million for water recycling; $520 million to provide clean drinking water in some critical areas; and $395 million for flood management.

While the building of the surface storage facilities will take years to accomplish, it is the part of the bond that agriculture -- and legislators friendly to agriculture -- rallied around as an area that had to be addressed.

Industry representatives quickly applauded the efforts of the California politicians.

Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual in Visalia, CA, issued a statement that said, in part, "I believe we have turned a corner in our state in which we quit destroying the land and the people that provide the world food and fiber."

He applauded both the Republican leadership and Gov. Brown for creating a bond that can take care of the many water needs of the Central Valley.

Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Western Growers Association in Irvine, CA, echoed the comments of many in stating, "Western Growers applauds passage of legislation today by the California assembly and senate establishing a $7.5 billion water bond that includes $2.7 billion for storage. We are especially pleased that the storage portion of this legislation is a continuous appropriation preventing the legislature from withholding funding. Passage of this legislation is an essential first step in adding capacity to our state's existing storage infrastructure."

Of course, the bond still has to be passed by the California electorate, which is still a daunting task. However, the compromise, which received overwhelming bi-partisan support from the Legislature, should have backers from many different factions when the campaign unfolds.