Opinion

Respect? We’re not getting it from the state

Portions of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project aqueducts, near Patterson, flow south from the Delta to water users in the South Valley and Southern California.
Portions of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project aqueducts, near Patterson, flow south from the Delta to water users in the South Valley and Southern California. Sacramento Bee

We’d often prefer to ignore what happens in Sacramento, but then we wake up to find we’ve been, uh, disregarded again.

It happened Tuesday as the Assembly voted to make California greener. Eventually. It could happen again Thursday when a “call to order” could push the cost of the state’s WaterFix onto about 25 million unsuspecting taxpayers and harm us.

Tuesday, the Assembly voted 43-32 to pass Senate Bill 100 over the angry but eloquent objections of Assemblyman Adam Gray of Merced. SB 100 will require all California utilities to provide exclusively renewable energy to customers. Sounds like a mighty blow against climate change – until you realize it won’t be fully implemented until 2045.

We don’t disagree with the goals, just how they’ll be achieved.

As has been the case with every renewable-energy bill for the last 20 years, SB 100 again refuses to recognize the original form of non-carbon energy as renewable. The combination of water and gravity has been producing electricity for 100 years. But most of that generation capacity is publicly owned because the public paid for the dams where it’s generated. True public power isn’t as easy for politicians to love as power generated by private companies. So they vote for more costly solutions – like solar and wind.

Not being allowed to count hydropower as renewable means our non-profit utility districts – which all own dams – must buy higher-priced wind and solar power. Those higher costs are passed to every customer.

“People where I live drive longer hours to work, they pay more for gas, they live in a climate that is hotter and they pay more for utilities,” Gray said from the Assembly floor. “This is yet another in a laundry list of bills that is discriminatory to the people I represent.”

He didn’t deny the necessity of battling climate change, just the wisdom of doing it through a bill that doesn’t take full effect for 27 years and penalizes his constituents.

“Poor people in my district pay tens of millions in higher rates so we can look to the future, have aspirational legislation” said Gray. Eight Democrats joined him, but the bill passed and has two more steps before becoming law.

Thursday’s issue involves paying for Gov. Jerry Brown’s California WaterFix. Cost estimates have risen from $15 billion to $20 billion for the two, 40-foot diameter tunnels that will siphon much of the Sacramento River under the Delta. That’s more than the governor and big water interest bargained for. So, some crafty genius decided the state should declare it part of the State Water Project, which was completed in 1997. Then the cost of bond-funding can be grandfathered onto those who helped pay for the original – including every landowner in Southern California, Alameda, Napa and 25 other districts.

All that’s needed is for the Joint Legislative Budget Committee to come to order for an informational hearing. No vote required.

Shouldn’t we all get a vote on something so costly?

Why should we care? Because on Nov. 7, the state water board will vote to require double or triple the environmental flows from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers. If the tunnels are built, water from our rivers will be essential to pushing back salty Bay water from the Delta. If the tunnels aren’t built, there’s a chance the state will be required to find other solutions. That’s why we’re against the tunnels.

When that meeting comes to order, it’s just another example of state government holding the people of the Northern San Joaquin Valley in complete disregard. Or, business as usual.

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