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Water DroughtAs state lawmakers tussle over how to boost California’s dwindling water supply, black consumers cope with rising prices caused by the shortage.


Despite the prolonged and severe drought in California, it seems the political divide in Sacramento has torpedoed any consensus on how to manage a resource that one non-partisan advocate calls the state’s “lifeblood.”

Last month, legislation authored by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) to create a $10.5 billion water bond failed to gain the required two-thirds majority; 22 Democrats voted for, nine Republicans opposed it and nine lawmakers didn’t vote.

If passed, Wolk’s bill, SB 848, would have replaced an $11.9 billion bond slated to appear on the statewide ballot in November. According to Wolk and her Democratic colleagues, that measure is doomed to failure because it includes a Republican-supported demand to build two tunnels underneath the California Delta in order to divert water to farming interests in the Southern San Joaquin Valley.

Rejection of her legislation “was a missed opportunity,” said Wolk. “It was especially disappointing to see my Republican colleagues from Northern California tie their horses to the Delta Tunnels and support the current bond written in 2009 rather than the tunnel neutral approach in SB 848 that was before them. The 2009 bond promotes the tunnels and is doomed to be rejected by the voters. We are in a drought. The voters want real solutions, not the tunnels.

She added: “There is no better time than now to act. SB 848 includes water solutions for every region of the state that reflect local needs and priorities. This bond doesn’t hurt any region and, critically, it avoids investments in controversial projects like the Delta Tunnels that will result in opposition at the ballot. SB 848 is the only proposal that doesn’t provoke a North-South water war and meets Republican core demand for surface storage.”

However, Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford), sees the matter much differently. “This water bond proposal leaves the Valley behind,” he said. “It’s pointless to store water if you can’t move it to where it’s needed. I can’t support a water bond that is worse than the 2009 … bond that’s already on this November’s ballot.”

With the clock ticking, time to replace the bond is not on lawmakers’ side. As for whether any viable bond proposal can be completed within the next three months before the session ends Aug. 31, Wolk sounded hopeful.

“Yes, a proposal could move forward,” she said. “However, many groups are threatening to kill any bond measure that does not meet their narrow interests, despite the good a bond might do for the entire state.

“If the Legislature does not act, the current water bond will remain on the ballot. As mentioned before, that bond is extremely divisive, and extremely unpopular with voters. It is unlikely to pass. If the polls are correct, and the bond fails, we will miss an opportunity to provide necessary funding for hundreds of necessary water projects throughout the state.”

Meanwhile, the importance of water to California cannot be overstated.

The non-partisan non-profit California Water Alliance notes that California is the nation’s leading agricultural producer, providing 1.1 million jobs, and generating estimated annual sales of $36 billion and another $100 billion in economic activity. It also takes into account the state’s enormous tourist and recreational industries and how a safe, reliable water supply is critical to the environmental health of every Californian.

“Water is the lifeblood of California,” said Bettencourt, the Alliance’s executive director. “Los Angeles became Los Angeles because of the availability of water to that area. It’s the reason we have the different cities and different industries. That was the brilliance of our forefathers. We have rain and snow in the Sierras that is able to be captured and moved throughout the state and raise up what is now the ninth largest economy in the world.

“So it’s the basic essential of life in southern California. Whether it’s the shipping industry in Long Beach and San Pedro, laundries, hotels and the tourist industry. It’s all available because of the ability of reliable, clean water.”

In terms of the pending legislation, Bettencourt urged lawmakers to grasp the nettle.

“The failing of Sen. Wolk’s bill is a great example of the long, hard, and often complicated work by representatives of all types of water users — [agricultural], urban and environmental — that goes into developing a truly comprehensive water bond package,” she said. “Years of work went into developing the 2009 water bond package to ensure that it addressed the challenges and planned for future needs of all water users and the environment statewide. As such, the 2009 package passed the state legislature and was signed by the governor. What we see today is all part of the democratic process; the long, hard work of sifting through ideas and proposals with the goal of developing one that best addresses the state’s water needs.”

Bettencourt added: “The water bonds are there to primarily address issues that have been left un-checked for a while. California hasn’t developed any new water infrastructure for our growing base of people since the 60s. Basically, we need to increase the size of the bucket for California. We need water to provide for those 38 million people and the environment.”

Two of those millions include South Los Angeles-area couple Naomi and Randy McSwain, who are part of the growing trend of green-fingered urbanites who like to grow their own food — in this case, in their well-tended Inglewood garden

The McSwains — Naomi runs a children’s nonprofit, Randy is an artist — have definitely noticed an increase in their grocery bill and have tried to accommodate that by shopping around.

“We heard that the drought was affecting prices, so we’ve been adding new vendors,” Naomi told CBM. “We started going to Superior Markets and we’ve returned to the 99 Cent Stores. We also use Amazon Fresh. In the last six months my husband has planted new items because he said the prices were just getting ridiculous.

“However, we then noticed a big increase in our water bills and he had to start cutting back. It’s kind of a Catch-22 situation. We started doing more gardening because of the high grocery bills and then had water issues and wondered if it was worth it.”

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