Aanestad carries water for gov

A new bill being carried by two northern district state senators proposes to issue up to $10 billion in bonds by 2010 and raise the rates of state water users in order to fund Delta levy repairs and find new places to store water. The bill, SB1166, is co-authored by Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley and Mike Machado, D-Stockton, but was initially proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his State of the State address last month.

The two senators both hail from important chokepoints in the state’s water supply chain, as most of the state’s water originates in the north and is shipped south, much of it through the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta. The problems with the system are immense. The delta ecosystem is fragile and supports important fish populations, which need plenty of water. Agricultural users also need water, as do residents and industrial users. The climate in California complicates matters further, vacillating unpredictably between drought years and flood years, both of which tax the water supply system.

One of the state government’s favorite solutions to the twin problems of drought and flooding in the past has been to create new dams and reservoirs to store water in wet years—which diverts it from areas prone to flooding—saving that water for drier seasons. But dams and reservoirs are notoriously difficult to build, both because of the cost involved and because of opposition raised by environmentalists and nearby property owners.

Aanestad, who has long pushed for a dam to be built near Auburn, is no friend of environmentalists, whom he blames for holding up such projects. In a press release about his latest bill, Aanestad said he hopes to amend his bill to provide “more in the way of flood protection … and less in the way of environmental protection and studies.” That kind of language is bound to make environmentalists nervous, but it isn’t clear how Aanested expects to build projects without completing environmental studies.

The first major project associated with the bill would likely be the Sites Reservoir, a man-made lake in the Antelope Valley, 10 miles west of Maxwell, that could potentially hold almost 2 million acre-feet of water, which would be pumped in from the Sacramento River. Some environmentalists claim that filling the reservoir could stir up naturally occurring mercury in the soil there and worry in general about the effects of tampering with already stressed riparian habitats.

Voters would have to approve the bond measure at the polls.