Senate GOP lawmakers came out in full force on Thursday against a bill calling for more urban water conservation, while moderate Democrats joined in their frustrations over lagging water storage investments.
Striking a steady drumbeat for building new reservoirs, Senator Brian Dahle of Lassen County pointed out that the state’s biggest water storage comes in the form of Sierra snowpack. But, he argued, that has been disrupted by wildfire damage.
Sen. Jim Nielsen of Tehama said the mismanagement that has affected forests is now happening to water supplies. He was offended Democrats would call for conservation after so quickly shooting down his measure last month on funding storage infrastructure, charging that conserving is the “woke thing to do” but it hasn’t worked.
“This is the epitome of hypocrisy,” added Sen. Andreas Borgeas of Fresno. “You can’t conserve your way out unless you build.”
Democratic Sen. Henry Stern of Canoga Park, on the other hand, defended the bill as a way for urban water users to make a sacrifice for all Californians, and he dismissed the Sites Reservoir proposal as “a dam somewhere else that's not even shovel ready.”
Sen. Susan Rubio of Baldwin Park, a moderate Democrat, did not support the bill due to the potential financial burden for small water districts, and a litany of local agencies opposed the measure.
Sen. Anna Caballero of Salinas also shared frustrations over delays with Sites. And ordering conservation by region “doesn’t make any sense,” said Caballero, “because frankly, it always ends up hitting the Central Valley.” She worried the lowest-income communities would feel the brunt of the cutbacks, since the measure could present higher water rates.
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Another moderate, Sen. Bill Dodd of Napa, took issue with Nielsen’s description of “a measly billion or so dollars” going to Sites. Dodd, who supports the proposal, said the project is actually advancing because of that state investment. But, he added, “we can walk, talk and chew gum” and conserve water use at the same time.
Sen. Melissa Hurtado of Sanger had a much more dire warning for her colleagues.
“Poor water management threatens our democracy and our very own existence,” she said. “Water insecurity can and will lead to social disruption if left unfixed.”
Defending his bill, Sen. Bob Hertzberg of Van Nuys said if this were the wrong action to take, it would simply mean more water would be available for growing food and other uses.
The Senate approved the measure, passing it to the Assembly.