California water bill could bring millions to Tahoe, Sierra Nevada | SierraSun.com

California water bill could bring millions to Tahoe, Sierra Nevada

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun
Sun File Photo
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TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; A bill that could bring millions of dollars for conservation work in the Sierra Nevada cleared the state assembly Wednesday, lining it up to go to voters in 2010.

The Safe, Clean and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act would inject $75 million into the Sierra Nevada Conservancy for watershed health-related projects, and $100 million into the California Tahoe Conservancy.

and#8220;This is really good news for the Sierra Nevada,and#8221; said Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council. and#8220;Senator Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto) really carried the water for the Sierra Nevada on this.and#8221;

The bond measure will go to voters in November 2010, pending approval from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which could happen within a week, capitol officials said.

If approved, SNC could use the $75 million for projects or grants to local conservation groups to acquire land with important watersheds, place easements, restore watersheds, provide education and outreach on watershed issues and conduct research, said Kerri Timmer, a project manager with SNC.

and#8220;Weand#8217;re very excited to be included in the bill and#8212; the Sierra is a major watershed, providing 60 to 65 percent of the stateand#8217;s water,and#8221; Timmer said.

and#8220;The voters still have to vote, so itand#8217;s not a done deal, but itand#8217;s good to see it moving forward.and#8221;

Patrick Wright, executive director of the California Tahoe Conservancy, said this goes a long way toward Californiaand#8217;s share of Tahoe work, following funding commitments this year from Nevada and a potential commitment this week from the federal government.

Nevada approved $100 million earlier this year for the Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program in the basin. The $2.5 billion EIP is a joint program among federal, state, local and private stakeholders that aims to improve water quality, restore lake clarity, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and prevent the introduction of aquatic invasive species at the lake, in addition to other environmental restoration efforts.

A bill that could add $415 million toward the EIP was introduced Tuesday in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., John Ensign, R-Nev., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to continue the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2000.

and#8220;Priorities on the north and west shores will be the bike trail network, particularly between Tahoe City and Kings Beach, stormwater and watershed work and lake-front land acquisition,and#8221; Wright said, regarding the $100 million possibly headed to the CTC.

He said Tahoe would also likely be competitive for money slated in the bonds for Calfire forest fuels reduction work and California Department of Fish and Game invasive aquatic species work.

Overall, the massive bill would invest $11.1 billion in general obligation bonds for state water, according to a release from Sen. Cogdilland#8217;s office.

State Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, opposed the bill in a statement Wednesday.

and#8220;While this plan addresses Californiaand#8217;s longtime need for additional water storage and much-needed infrastructure, it does nothing to help our state by creating more unaccountable bureaucracies that donand#8217;t answer to those they serve,and#8221; Gaines said in the statement.

Frisch, on the other hand, said heand#8217;d like to see even more state funding like this in the future.

and#8220;In the long run we need to get funded equally as the California State Coastal Conservancy,and#8221; Frisch said.

Schwarzenegger described the bond as a wise investment to upgrade Californiaand#8217;s antiquated water system and meet the needs of a growing population.

Funding to boost water recycling and groundwater supplies was added at the request of the mayors of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, Fresno and Santa Ana, according to a copy of an Oct. 23 letter sent to the governor and legislative leaders.

Jason Dickerson, director of state administration at the Legislatureand#8217;s nonpartisan analystand#8217;s office, said voter approval of the water bond would add to Californiaand#8217;s massive debt, which could soon require 10 percent of state revenue to pay down.

Department of Water Resources director Lester Snow said the bond would stimulate the economy by encouraging local spending and jobs. Previous water bond dollars have led to an additional $2 to $3 in local construction spending, he said.

and#8212; The Associated Press contributed to this report.