10:00 PM PST on Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Press-Enterprise

The $11.14 billion water bond the Legislature passed this month offers further proof that legislators live in an alternate reality, disconnected from the rest of the state. California faces years of daunting budget crises, yet legislators see nothing wrong with adding to the state’s already substantial public debt just to fund political pork.

Risking vital improvements to the state’s water system to pay for politicians’ pet projects is reckless nonsense, particularly given the state’s economic distress. Legislators should junk the pork and refocus the bond on projects necessary to ensure a reliable water supply for California.

The water bond started at $9.4 billion, but almost overnight expanded to more than $11 billion. Much of that money went to earmarks aimed at winning legislators’ votes for the bond. Apparently, a water shortage caused by drought and the collapse of the state’s primary water system is not enough to get legislators’ attention by itself.

But the $9.4 billion bond was already bloated, considering the state has more than $3 billion of already approved water bond money available for projects.

No matter. The bond package now includes such goodies as $250 million for dam removal on the Klamath River and $100 million for Lake Tahoe watershed protection, recreational facilities and other improvements. The bond includes $75 million for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy for projects including “educational and interpretive activities.” Another $30 million is set aside for watershed educational facilities.

That list is not exhaustive, but makes the point: Little of this spending has anything to do state water needs.

The bond does include $2.25 billion for bolstering the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which supplies water to much of the state. And another $3 billion would go for new reservoirs or underground storage which the state will need for the future.

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