FRESNO, California, November 10, 2009 (ENS) – California Governor Schwarzenegger went to the Friant Dam near Fresno Monday to sign the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010. If approved by the voters next November, the measure would authorize the issuance of bonds in the amount of $11.14 billion to finance a safe drinking water and water supply reliability program for California.

Fresno, a city in California’s agricultural Central Valley, is suffering from water scarcity, as the governor said just before he signed the bill.

“Today a system that was built for 18 million people now is crumbling under the pressure of 38 million people,” the governor said. “The Central Valley is the epicenter of this crisis. Fields lie fallow, communities are devastated, fathers and mothers are unable to provide for their families. I have heard the pleas of the people here from this valley and I’ve heard the pleas of the people from the state of California and I think the legislators have heard those pleas as well.”

Last week California legislators approved a comprehensive, historic water agreement, including the $11 billion bond measure.

Governor Schwarzenegger said the $11 billion bond will leverage another $30 billion in federal and in local funds, so all together this is a $40 billion infrastructure package.

“It’s the biggest infrastructure package in the history of California,” said the governor. “This money will fund a variety of different projects which will fix the Delta, it will restore its ecosystem and it will go and build a better conveyance system. And we will have, once and for all, below and above the ground water storage, which we have been fighting for and I wouldn’t have signed this without that water storage.”

In Washington, Monday Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar took note of the signing ceremony in Fresno and pledged that the Obama administration would help California to solve its water problems.

“Today, Governor Schwarzenegger is signing milestone water legislation in Fresno County, one of the counties hardest hit by California’s water crisis – a crisis caused by the brutal combination of a three-year drought, the collapse of native fisheries in the Bay Delta, and the fact that California’s investments in water conservation and infrastructure have not kept up with its growth,” said Secretary Salazar.

He said the federal government is committed to being a full partner “with the state and stakeholders” in laying a foundation for California’s water future, providing a sustainable water supply, and helping those hardest hit, including in the Central Valley.

Salazar said that in its meeting today, the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council Governing Board is expected to approve the request of the Department of the Interior and Department of Commerce for “an independent scientific review of key questions relating to the California Bay Delta, and how to both protect the ecosystem and provide a reliable water supply.”

The first of two reports from the National Research Council is expected by March 15, 2010.

“If approved, the first NAS report will direct particular attention to the water delivery restrictions in the biological opinions and whether there are available alternative actions that would have lesser impacts on water deliveries while still providing equal or greater protection for the species and their designated critical habitat.

The NAS report will also look at the extent to which factors other than water pumping are contributing to the collapse of the Bay Delta ecosystem.

“In addition,” said Salazar, “the administration is fully committed to funding and moving forward with the construction of the Delta-Mendota Canal/California Aqueduct Intertie, pending the completion of a Record of Decision on the project, which we anticipate within the next 60 days.

“The administration is also continuing to pursue the Two-Gates Fish Protection Demonstration Project through the required permitting processes, on an expedited basis,” the secretary said. “Other potential projects that could supplement water supplies for the Valley include the Patterson Irrigation District Fish Screen project and related Pipeline Project.”

As announced in October, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce and other federal agencies are working together under a Memorandum of Understanding that commits the federal government to produce an integrated work plan to address California water issues by December 15.

Governor Schwarzenegger said the new era of cooperation to resolve California’s water problems is long overdue.

“Mark Twain once said that whiskey is for drinking but water is worth fighting over. Well, he must have been talking about California, let me tell you, because for decades Californians have been fighting about water,” said the governor. “It’s like a holy water war that has taken place over the last few decades here. Everyone was fighting everybody. It was north versus south, rural versus urban, Republicans versus Democrats, business versus labor, farmers versus environmentalists and the list goes on and on, fighting, fighting, fighting. And because of this division it blocked California from investing in its water infrastructure.”

That hostility may be easing with the help of the Obama administration. Salazar said, “The administration is also working closely with the state on a variety of important fronts including, in particular, the development of a Bay Delta Conservation Plan. We will continue to pursue all of these efforts, in close tandem with the state and other stakeholders as we address both the short-term and longer-term water needs for California.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.