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May 20, 2010

BERRYHILL: Water bond does many things, except make sense

As a lifelong San Joaquin Valley farmer, I support improving and increasing our water supply. I wanted to support the water bond the Legislature placed on the November ballot, but I couldn't.

The water bond is enormously expensive, costing taxpayers $22 billion by the time principal and interest are paid off. How can we ask voters to approve that kind of spending during a recession?

Both Republican candidates for governor have blasted the pork in the bond, and they're right. Examples are strewn throughout the bill. Consider the fact that from 2 to 5 a.m. on the day it passed, this bond grew by over $2 billion.

What's truly disappointing is that, if written well, a water bond could do what we need for about half the cost, and could do it more effectively.

The basic ideas behind the bond were solid — increase water storage, fix the crumbling delta levees, encourage conservation. But the implementation of these ideas in the final bond is an expensive, impractical mishmash.

The storage projects are unlikely to get built due to compromises and drafting problems made as the bond was finalized. Most of the supposed conservation money is just political pork, and will do nothing to help us conserve water.

The conveyance system the bond would help establish — a peripheral canal or tunnel — will take many years to build and will cost billions of dollars more than this bond provides to get started. That conveyance will also likely do more damage to the delta.

Fixing the delta levees is an urgent project. But at best, just 6 percent of the water bond is devoted to this purpose. Do we really have to swallow $10.5 billion in other expenses to fix the levees?

Remarkably, the water bond devotes $250 million to removing a dam on the Klamath River. So we're more likely to see storage removed than we are to see new storage built.

The water storage in the bond is more like a pipe dream than a guarantee. That's because of strange hurdles built into the funding process. Any state money for storage has to be matched by private sources, but the matching money must be available well before we can be sure the state money will be there.

Imagine asking your new business partner to put up his half of the money first for a new project, while you are having trouble getting loans for anything, and you and he both know you might never come up with your half. This is a prescription for nothing to happen.

What's worse, the storage projects eligible for funding are not clearly specified. Dams or no dams? Groundwater storage? The bond itself is ambiguous, and you know what that means: fights over funding and lawsuits before anything gets built.

Another X-factor: The new water commission, to be appointed by the next governor, can decide whether they want water storage at all. If not, they can simply decide to spend that money elsewhere.

Farmers also should remember that even if somehow that much private funding is put up to pay for storage and everything goes according to plan, the water it will produce likely will cost over $500 per acre-foot to pay for construction. At those prices, that is not agricultural water.

I believe we need an effective solution to our water problems. I don't believe this bond provides that. The good things in the bond come with too many unnecessary extras and question marks.

Central Valley voters seem to agree with me. According to a recent poll, 65 percent of them oppose the water bond, much higher than the 55 percent opposition statewide.

This bond is not our only chance to fix the state's water problems. Once we defeat this flawed measure, we have the opportunity to come back to the table and deliver serious solutions, without the extra helping of pork.

Bill Berryhill, R-Ceres, represents the 26th Assembly District. He has no opposition in the June 8 primary.

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