For a commodity with a value that makes oil seem like printer's ink by comparison, the talk in Sacramento over water has dropped to a slow boil in recent months.
California's budget deficit has led most legislators to focus on money problems rather than the equally hard -- and arguably more important, in the long term -- work that goes into shaping a new water bond.
Although state Senate Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Alameda, floated a bond at the beginning of the year, the budget trouble and associated political squabbling persuaded him to largely shelve his proposal.
But the idea didn't go away.
Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, is proposing a bond that borrows from Perata's idea, with some extra touches added at the request of Gov. Schwarzenegger.
Those include money for surface storage, or, in other words, dams.
That's bound to raise the ire of environmental groups, which almost always oppose new dams because of the effects on wildlife and river systems.
But Machado said the state has a basic math problem with water: too much demand, not enough supply. If the state is going to even start to address that problem with a bond, he said, all options have to be on the table.
"That means surface storage. That means groundwater banking. That means desalinization," he said. "The challenge is to see what tools we have to begin to address the issue."
That isn't easy, he noted. With water, a verbal fight worthy of "WrestleMania" almost always breaks out.
The stakeholders include cities, agriculture, environmentalists, water managers and even other states -- almost everyone.
Environmental groups are concerned not only about dams, but also about the effect of water diversions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Some believe such diversions have hurt the delta smelt, a fish that's got great legal representation, judging by the lawsuits filed on its behalf.
Machado's $6.8 billion bond proposal includes $2.4 billion for "delta sustainability," with $1.4 billion specifically allotted for ecosystem restoration, which presumably includes delta smelt.
The bond includes another smack at Southern California, with no money allocated for building a water transfer/conveyance facility.
That also might be a message to the governor, who has resurrected the idea of the Peripheral Canal, which would be used to send water south by bypassing the delta entirely.
Northern California politicians have vehemently opposed such an idea, and state voters rejected it in a 1982 ballot measure.
Fast forward to now, though, and Southern California isn't getting any wetter. And with Los Angeles' share of water from the Colorado River in question because of increased demand from other fast- growing Southwestern states, water up here is becoming more attractive.
All these factors won't make getting a bond on the ballot -- much less passing it -- any easier.
And in order to even give voters a say, Machado will have to move it through the Legislature with at least two Republican state senators approving it.
Thus, weekly meetings take place between Machado and Senate Minority Leader Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, in hopes of crafting a bond proposal that gives a little water to everyone.
Cogdill said much of the state's current water policy is based on measures passed nearly 50 years ago, when California's population was about 15 million.
It's more than doubled since then, and could push 55 million in 20 years.
"It isn't getting any simpler," Cogdill said. "We've put a lot of work on this, and I think we're closer than we have been in a long time."
In other circles, however, there's more skepticism.
Kamyar Guivetchi, manager of statewide water planning for the California Department of Water Resources, said he's not sure legislators will move forward on water policy during the current session.
Guivetchi said a separate task force is discussing the delta specifically and may have a list of recommendations by the end of 2008 or early next year.
"Given the economic situation, I'm not sure how open the public would be to vote for a large bond," he said.
That may be another stumbling block.
If the list of interested parties is lengthy just for water legislation, potentially millions more could find something to dislike if they see a bond on their ballot.
Machado said he's realistic about how much any bond can do.
He said he is hopeful that this one will offer enough to please everyone and actually start solving the state's water problem.
Taking a look at water supplies this year -- and keeping global warming in mind -- make the case for urgency, he said.
The old saying is that in California, water is for fighting over. But if something isn't done, this is a war with no winners.
Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2331.