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Seeking solution to water crisis

In California, water policy is an issue that has produced huge conflicts and little progress over the past 30 years. As a result, many farmers have had to cut back their crops because there wasn’t enough water to grow them.

Facing court-ordered water reductions and another year of drought, many communities have had to resort to mandatory water rationing.

Since becoming the Assembly minority leader, finding a solution to our state’s water crisis has been a top priority for me. As a lead negotiator in the water debate, it was important to me that the package benefit water users and farmers in the Central Coast and across the state.

Many viewed this type of comprehensive solution to be an impossible feat to accomplish this year.
However, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed a bipartisan, legislative package that addresses both short and long term issues that have contributed to California’s water problems for decades.

The plan was the result of years of challenging negotiations and difficult work on the part of divergent interests, including farmers, business, and the environmental community. All sides were able to compromise and create a far-reaching vision to provide clean water, maintain healthy ecosystems and solve regional water issues across the state.

The centerpiece of the package is an $11.1 billion investment in water infrastructure. This measure, if approved by voters, will dedicate funds toward new water storage and conveyance, Delta restoration and ecosystem protection and water conservation and recycling projects.

These investments will allow us to upgrade our system for the 38 million residents we have today, and the 50 million forecasters expect to see in the coming years.

Critical dollars will also be spent on coastal watershed protection, wildlife refuges and protecting rivers and streams — including $2.25 billion to ensure the future sustainability of the San Joaquin Delta and protect threatened endangered species.

The package also has provisions to reduce per-capita water use by 20 percent by 2020, help streamline new water delivery and penalize those who illegally divert water.

Throughout the negotiations, I fought hard to ensure that we protected existing water rights, prevented provisions that could launch future frivolous lawsuits and avoided the unnecessary expansion of government regulatory power.

For example, initial proposals that would have allowed water rights to be taken away for failure to file paperwork and given regulators unfettered access to private property for groundwater monitoring were taken out.

Complicated volumetric pricing schemes that would have caused some smaller farms to face significant economic hardship were also removed from the final package.

In addition to improving the 40-percent unemployment rates in the water-starved Central Valley and other rural and agricultural areas, this package will benefit housing and business projects in cities and suburbs that also depend on water for jobs.

We will also protect and restore the Delta and other fragile waterways and watersheds statewide.
I am proud to be a co-author of this bipartisan solution that helps plan for California’s future. The people of California are the winners with this historic water agreement — one that will provide for a safe, reliable drinking supply, job creation, and a healthier ecosystem for future generations.

Sam Blakeslee, a Republican, represents the 33rd Assembly District in the California Assembly.
 
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