Politics & Government

State Dems offer alternative dam legislation

SACRAMENTO -- With two competing water plans already on the table, Assembly Democrats on Thursday weighed in with their own package of bills to fix the delta and increase water supplies.

The legislation includes few details at this point. But the bills reaffirm the reluctance of Democrats to use state money to pay for dams -- a major part of Gov. Schwarzenegger's $9 billion plan.

The governor's proposal, carried by Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, authorizes the state to pay for as much as half the cost of three dams for a total of $5.1 billion. The targeted sites include one east of Fresno, a site in Colusa County and expansion of an existing dam in Contra Costa County.

The legislation by Assembly Democrats states that local water users should carry "the strong majority" of water project costs.

Assembly Member John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, author of the bills, said the state has typically paid only a small fraction of the cost of new dams.

"If the governor's bond kept to that historic pattern, it would be almost $5 billion less than it is," he said.

Democrats have emphasized conservation, recycling and ground-water storage to boost water supplies.

But administration officials say that state payments for dams are justified because they would have statewide benefits, such as increased flood protection. Water officials also say the new dams would give them more flexibility to move water around the state.

The third plan, a $5 billion proposal by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, would free local water agencies to spend $2 billion in state water supply money as they see fit -- on dams, ground-water storage or other initiatives. It also includes $2 billion for projects to repair the deteriorating Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The governor includes a similar amount in his plan for the delta.

The goal of both parties is to get a bond on the Feb. 5 ballot. Lawmakers have until Oct. 16 to strike a deal.

"We really will have to work around the clock between now and [Oct. 16] to get it done," Laird said. "And we're willing to do it."

Hearings on all the proposals are tentatively scheduled for next week.