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Op-Ed: Dan Bacher: Governor Signs Water Bond Bill at Friant Pork Festival


By: Dan Bacher

Nov. 11, 2009 - Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday signed a death warrant for California's environment - an $11.1 billion water bond bill that will lead to the construction of the peripheral canal and more dams unless the voters defeat this pork-filled measure in the November 2010 election.

Schwarzenegger and his collaborators, including comedian Paul Rodriguez, Senator Dave Codgill, Assemblymember Anna Caballero and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, celebrated the signing of the pork-filled bond passed by the California Legislature last week with a press conference at Friant Dam near Fresno.

At Schwarzenegger's "pork festival," the Governor proudly proclaimed that the $11 billion bond will leverage another $30 billion in federal and in local funds, "so altogether this is a $40 billion infrastructure package." Schwarzenegger failed to mention that the bond, proposed at a time when the state budgets for teachers, game wardens, health care for children, disabled services, and state parks have been slashed, would indebt Californians for many decades to come.

Schwarzenegger was elated that the bond would fund above ground storage including Temperance Flats and Sites reservoirs and create a clear path to the construction of his pet project, the peripheral canal, a massive pork barrel boondoggle that would approximate the peripheral canal in length and width.

"It's the biggest infrastructure package in the history of California," gushed Schwarzenegger. "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."

Schwarzenegger praised Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), Senator Dennis Hollingsworth (R-Murrieta), Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) for their "great work," as well as lauding the efforts of Senator Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto), Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) and Paul Rodriguez for their successful efforts to push the water legislation package through the Capitol.

"It's great to be here at Schwarzenegger-Cogdill Dam," quipped Paul Rodriguez, the chair of the Latino Water Coalition, an astroturf organization developed by the Governor and Central Valley growers to put a "human face" on corporate agribusiness. "It's nice to see the Caballero Pumping House is working, (Laugher) the Mario Santoyo Tributary and every one of these, ladies and gentlemen, that made this possible."

In response to a reporter's question, Schwarzenegger denied that there was any "pork" in the bill, claiming that "there is not one single dollar in this package that is not going to be wisely spent, because what some of them call 'earmarks' or 'pork' is for other people very important money to clean up the groundwater."

However, an Associated Press review by reporter Samantha Young on November 7 "found dozens of projects that were injected into the bond bill to secure enough votes to get it passed." The projects will add tens of millions of dollars to the interest taxpayers will have to pay on the bond if voters approve it next year.

During the final days of the session, the bond measure increased from $9.4 billion to $11.1 billion as Legislators snuck their favorite pork barrel projects into the bill.

These projects include the following:

* $30 million earmarked to the state Department of Parks and Recreation for grants for watershed education facilities

* $20 million set aside for the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, which manages land for recreation and wildlife and is the Los Angeles district represented by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass

* $ 20 million for economic development in a rural northern county

* $10 million to a University of California climate change institute

* $100 million for San Diego County for local and regional water projects.

The bill also includes $250 million for Klamath River dam removal - a cynical attempt by the Governor to trade dam removal on the Klamath for the contruction of new dams and a peripheral canal in the Central Valley.

Fortunately, Klamath dam removal advocates such as the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA) are opposed to the water bond as currently written, since it attempts to trade restoration of one river system for the destruction of another.

"While PCFFA supports funding from the State of California for Klamath Dam removal, as required under the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA), support for that Klamath funding does not require support for the recent Water Bond Act (SB 2), passed by the Legislature that will be on the November 2010 ballot, that includes language (e.g., new Central Valley water conveyance or surface water storage) that would damage salmon runs elsewhere," according to Monday's news release from the PCFFA.

As the Governor conducted his pork festival, a group of five local community activists who care about California's future held a vigil in opposition to the water bond at Friant Dam. "This occurred while the Governator and members of the State Legislature presided over issuing a death warrant for California's environment – a pristine and unique canyon area known as the Table Mountains in the upper reaches of the San Joaquin River nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills," said Steve Haze, program director for the San Joaquin Valley Leadership Forum and a Democratic candidate for the 20th Congressional District now "represented" by agribusiness-owned Congressman Jim Costa.

"While there are those who may 'drawn their line in the sand' – these dedicated individuals, including Jean Hays, Ann Carruthers, Diane Haze and Richard Sloan, have chiseled their line in the solid granite and basalt that make up this unique natural wonder that is our home," said Haze. "We are inspired by others such as John Muir who fought hard to save the Range of Light and the Hetch Hetchy Valley. We are as determined as Gene Rose – the author of 'The San Joaquin River – a river betrayed.' These dedicated individuals came out to express their determination to save the San Joaquin from a ninth massive dam being built on this spiritual river."

Schwarzenegger's celebration of the water bond and its pork takes at a time when the voter approval of the Legislature and Governor is at an all time low. In a recent field poll, only 13 percent of the voters contacted gave the Legislature a favorable rating and only 27 percent gave Schwarzenegger a favorable rating.

However, the real question to ask is not how the Legislature and Governor earned such a low approval rating from the voters, but how ANYBODY living in the state of California could possibly approve of the current Legislature and Governor when they support such an outrageously expensive and environmentally destructive package in a time of severe economic crisis. Who are these people that approve of such corrupt and incompetent politicians - the Governor and legislators' staff members and their families?

The water bond and policy package will not only indebt Californians for decades to come, but it will likely result in the destruction of the California Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. The purpose of the water package, in spite of the "eco-language" put into the legislation by Democratic legislators to give it a false "green" veneer, is to create the infrastructure to increase water exports to subsidized corporate agribusiness and southern California.

Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, striped bass, green sturgeon and other fish populations have collapsed to record low population levels, due to record water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and declining water quality, including an increasing witch's brew of toxic chemicals present throughout the system. This ecosystem desperately needs less water exported from it rather than more water diverted from it to save collapsing populations of fish and the coastal and inland communities that depend on them for their economic health.


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