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Bigelow and Berryhill on water bonds

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Matthew Hedger
07/31/2014 8:30 AM

Water issues, including bonds and legislation proposed by a Bay Area senator affecting their shared jurisdiction dominated the discussion during an interview with Amador County’s elected representatives, Senator Tom Berryhill and Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, during an impromptu lunchtime interview July 18. The first part of the interview was published in the July 25 print edition of the Amador Ledger Dispatch, and is available online. In this week’s second part of our two-part series, we delve into water bonds, and the history of the legislation promoted by the two men.

ALD: So the water bond issue. Would you like to talk a little bit about that, about what is coming up in August, and how that ties in for you.

Berryhill: I’m sure Frank will pipe in here. There are several water bonds that have been on the floor, and really, there’s kind of consensus between Frank and Connie’s (Assembly Leader Conway, R-Tulare) bill and the Perea (Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno) bill, that was for $8.5 billion. The governor wanted six, and that was a good starting point. I think the governor backs 8-1/2 billion. But we got right up to the very edge and there were some personalities and this and that and it didn’t happen — very frustrating. That being said, this is a good bond that builds two water storage facilities … it gives us underground water cleanup. Hopefully, we can make that happen and put something in front of the voters in California come November.

ALD: How about you, Assemblyman? You co-wrote AB2043.

Bigelow: That’s a fact. To give a little perspective, in 2009, the legislature came together. It was a real battle, to get what they got, which was an $11.14 billion dollar bond. Yes, there were some bells and whistles in there, but they got the language that they wanted. They got the dollars for the projects that are needed. What we really tailored, from then to now, is a scaled-down model. Assembly Bill 2043 is $8.35 billion dollars. That covers all the infrastructure, core-capital improvements that we need: two dams, multiple facilities for water treatment throughout, some cross-connection conveyance channels that are needed — not tunnel stuff — conveyance projects, and monies to improve our existing levies. So that was a really good package that we put out, both Connie and myself, and that was gaining us all the right language to protect the water rights, to protect the continuous appropriation of funding, so that you don’t get started and stopped annually. On top of that, it’s set in the (language) structure how projects would be approved, right down to the minutiae. Through the recognition that Republicans don’t typically have a chance of getting anything passed, we worked with Perea, who has Assembly Bill 2686. He and I were fairly far apart. But he did have the structure of $3 billion dollars, and continuous appropriation in his, and he had some finer points and it became, ‘OK, can we work together?’ and he and I talked. I mean, we actually went out and found a cousin, his name starts with Jack (laughs) and we actually got to a point that was, ‘Hey, wait a minute, we’re not far apart. Can we get there?’ Now his has $10.1 billion dollars in his package, and he had a lot of extra desires, and the desires were to get votes to support it, basically, so there was an extra billion here and an extra billion there, mostly for coastal folks and Los Angeles. Given that said, I became a joint author on his bill, so it looked like a bipartisan picture. If you looked at his language, and you looked at my language, it’s all the same, except you’ve got two extra billion dollars that’s programmed in for projects in the core L.A. area and the coastal area, and coastal meaning Monterey. If you put a billion dollars for Monterey into my bill, you’d be at just under $10 billion. Given that said, its kind of ironic that out of six or seven water bonds, there are only two, truthfully, that are not victimized by the system. The last one that lives on the Senate side was killed, and it died on the floor, but it was granted reconsideration, and that’s the Wolk (Senator Lois Wolk, D-Davis) bill. But ours are still alive. It’s interesting how these two have been able to continue moving forward.

ALD: Do you think that’s because of the perception that it’s a bi-partisan effort?

Bigelow: I don’t really think it’s a perception. It has been a bi-partisan effort.

Berryhill: It’s a better bond.

Bigelow: It works well together. We’ve purposefully kept both alive, because, if one fails, Henry can jump on mine, and we can still move forward. But, at the same time, we had negotiated in good faith, and at the last minute, when we left on a Thursday, what three weeks, four weeks ago, I mean, we had a deal. And that whole thing came to an explosion, and we were brought into an office when we came back the next Monday, and we were told, ‘Okay, you’re going to sit in a room, and you’re going to hammer out new language, and you’re going to hammer out new dollars, because the governor wants it to be at around $6 billion dollars.’ Well we can’t get there and have a responsible bond move forward. If we don’t get at least an $8 billion dollar package, you’re just wasting the people’s money. It doesn’t pencil out, and you can’t get there, and you can’t get there, for sure, with the language that they’re proposing. Language that would leave out water rights protection, would leave out continuous appropriation, would leave out recreational components and other components that make it possible for us to actually justify having a storage facility.

Berryhill: Those are deal killers, without those. Frank mentioned water rights. It took us two years of fighting with these guys in the original bond to get those water rights, and those water rights for Northern California, they would be in the Constitution, so they could never steal this water. If we don’t pass a bond, and they build a conveyance system, (tunnels) they’re going to legally steal this water as I sit here. And that should concern every one of us in this room today.

Bigelow: Let’s go back to your first discussion point, the Mokelumne. If you don’t protect those above-ground water rights, not only if SB 1199 passes, will you lose your future allocations, allotments, of water that you’re secured right now with, you will lose those under 1199. You will also be jeopardized because the water rights language is being stripped out. Your existing water is now compromised and potentially threatened. So you could, even with your existing people, lose, and not have enough to provide.

ALD: Even 1914 rights too?

Berryhill: Yes.

Bigelow: Yes. The most senior water rights are the pre-1914 water rights.

Berryhill: All it takes is a declaration from the governor. He did one declaration earlier this year that we got him to do. Then he comes back and does another one that allowed them to curtail our 1914 water rights. And that should concern everyone up here in the north. So, this bond is paramount to keeping California whole. And not only for water up here, but for water for agriculture down in the valley for food. We supply food globally. If we lose the ability to raise our own food and go offshore, it’s a national issue. It’s a national public safety issue.

Bigelow: Now let’s jump a little bit forward, because what they’re starting to talk about is including groundwater elements inside this whatever vehicle package for the water bond. If they get that tied in there, that could cause further internal strife for anybody to support it, for many people to support the water bond moving forward, because they’ve really wanted to manage all of it. Do you have your own personal well?

ALD: Yes.

Bigelow: That’s the component that they’re talking about. And a guy comes in and says we’re going to put a lock, we’re going to put a meter, oh, by the way, we’re also going to tell you how much water you can use.

Berryhill: But Frank, do you think if they try to incorporate that language, and they very well may, that that may be something that’s an absolute deal-killer too?

Bigelow: I have made it clear that it is to me. I don’t want to co-mix surface and groundwater because they’re two different elements. One is private property rights — the overlying landowner has the rights to everything underneath the ground.

ALD: We’ve heard our supervisors say that many times. That these over-broad, one-size-fits-all legislative efforts actually don’t fit that well in our unique corner of the state, or in other unique corners of the state.

Berryhill: It’s all regional. The problems you have up here in Amador aren’t problems down in Fresno or Madera — they’re completely different. The other thing that people don’t understand is that all of a sudden, if you’ve got additional water storage, so we have more water, that helps increase your underground water supply.

Bigelow: Let’s don’t confuse the two issues. The overlying is the water basin component of discussion with the groundwater. They want to do regulations based on a basin-wide. Now you don’t live on a basin here. You’re in a fractured rock system. In the valley, they’re actually in a basin where they’re in an aquifer. There is water directly right there. Here, it’s hunt and peck, hit and miss. You’ve just got to find the right fracture. So they’re totally different. The California Department of Water Resources has dearly, dearly wanted to capture all water rights, and this is something they’re seething at right now and they see the opportunity. Because there’s not enough people who understand the differences and the nuances between these different components. So it’s up to just to just a handful of us — Tom, me, a couple others, that can articulate this, and try to stop it. What’s really going to be needed right now is you. Not just as the Amador Ledger Dispatch, but you, as a personal, private property owner, and you, everybody, fighting it and getting the word out to the people that hey, they’re coming after your private property. Take your water rights away, what do you got?  Control the water and you get to control how you move people.

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