Political Notebook

GOP Assembly members call for special session on water

Assembly Member Devon Mathis, R-Visalia
Assembly Member Devon Mathis, R-Visalia

Four Republican state Assembly members — two of them from the central San Joaquin Valley — have written a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown asking for a “special legislative session to address California’s unresolved water crisis.”

The letter, signed by Assembly Members Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, and Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, as well as William Brough of Dana Point in Orange County and James Gallagher of Nicolaus near Yuba City in northern California, doesn’t overtly call for Republican priorities such as new dam construction or suspension or repeal of environmental regulations. But it does hint at such actions.

“We also believe that this goes far beyond any discussion about ‘drought’ — a naturally occurring atmospheric condition that has been a continuous part of California’s history,” the letter says.

Brown spokesman Gareth Lacy said in an email that many actions are already being taken in response to the water crisis, and hinted that the letter from the Assembly members is nothing more than politics.

“We continue to operate under the drought state of emergency declared by Governor Brown and there is a sound process — not dependent on a special session — already in place to ensure drought assistance and bond funds are not only spent quickly, but properly,” the email statement said. “To date, hundreds of millions have been committed to emergency drought relief, disaster assistance, water conservation and infrastructure projects across California — with much more on the way. This investment and response is the product of Republicans and Democrats setting aside politics and working together, rather than just issuing blustery press releases.”

Specifically, Lacy said that earlier this month the Department of Water Resources announced new rebate programs financed by Proposition 1 to “help Californians replace old appliances and tear out water-guzzling lawns” and the California Energy Commission approved new standards for showerheads, a move expected to save more than 38 billion gallons of water in the coming decade. He also cited “unprecedented” conservation efforts, with state residents “even exceeding the Governor’s order to reduce water usage by 25 percent.”

But the two-page letter paints a different picture. It talks about El Niño, the warm ocean water that is spreading in the Pacific right now that is being described by scientists in epic terms and which could bring heavy rain to the state this winter.

“If accurate, the heavy rains would of course be welcome, but could threaten to quickly take our state from drought to flood if we do not start preparing now to put projects on line quickly to store that water and help with expedited flood control,” the letter says.

It further says the state has yet to spent up to half of the $687 million set aside to help drought-stricken communities, and further alleges the “same slow and lethargic project pace” with spending funds from Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond approved last year by voters.

“This failure to act is far more than the latest story about the inefficiencies of government,” the letter says. “It is, instead, a cavalier demonstration by our state that it does not believe it should be as determined to act as it is quick to promise.”

The letter, however, is short on specifics. Part of the letter says “the enduring emergency of water supply, collection, storage and infrastructure remains both unmet and even unaddressed.” Another part says the state “must resolve to expedite the delivery of funding, aid and support” on water. Finally, it says leaders “must be open to thoughtful and careful review of environmental policies that — even if well-meaning — may be doing more harm than good.”