EDITORIAL: Legislature should take time to get 2014 water bond right

With dry conditions igniting fires statewide and reservoirs dropping ever lower, state lawmakers are thinking about water in general and, more specifically, a 2014 water bond.

Both chambers have produced legislation to rescind and scale back the bloated $11.14 billion water bond that, if left unchanged, would head to the ballot in 2014 and face certain defeat. The total amounts would be $5.6 billlion in the Senate version vs. $6.5 billion in the Assembly bill. Both would invest in clean drinking water, an issue rising in priority -- particularly in the San Joaquin Valley. Both have pots of money for water storage and watershed projection.

There also are differences between these pieces of legislation. Senate Bill 42, by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, was drafted following stakeholder meetings, including ones with Wolk's constituents in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It, for example, gives the Legislature more control over how storage money is spent. Assembly Bill 1331, by Assembly Member Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, was shaped by public hearings in the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, which Rendon chairs.

Both of these bills are solid frameworks for discussion on a new water bond. But the chambers differ on how to march forward. The Assembly wants to push its bill through this session, even though the language has been in print for just over a week. Wolk is fine with waiting until 2014 to debate and enact final legislation.

The Legislature would be wise to hold off until next year. Extra time will also allow both chambers to improve their proposals. Why, for instance, are both bills stingy on funds for restoring Delta wildlife habitat? The answer, according to both Wolk and Rendon, is they don't want the water bond to be seen as facilitating the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which hopes to marry a controversial water tunnel project to habitat restoration.

We think this political calculus goes overboard. Restoration could help fish and the entire ecosystem -- and reduce conflicts over water diversions. Lawmakers should recognize that, and not let the unsavory parts of BDCP negate the appetizing ones.