Water bill signing ceremony celebrates historic package, promotes future legislation

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Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, state and local leaders appeared at a signing ceremony for new water bills in Sun Valley. Those laws will change the way the state manages water in the Sacramento Delta and conserves it everywhere. The ceremony also served to launch a campaign to get voter approval for an $11 billion bond measure.

The governor heaped praise on the lawmakers who passed four bills and a bond measure aimed at providing for the state's long-term water needs. That comprehensive package, he says, represents a break from the past. "Mark Twain once said that whiskey is for drinking, but water is worth fighting over," he said, "and I think this is exactly what happened over the last few decades, where we have seen that where everyone has fought here in California, and because of that nothing got done."

Democrats and Republicans, Northern and Southern California lawmakers joined the governor, as did Southland mayors from San Diego and Los Angeles. Several speakers called the package the most comprehensive overhaul of the state's water policies in decades.

Assemblyman Steve Bradford represents Gardena, Hawthorne, and Inglewood. He said the $40 billion water package serves two major needs for the South Bay, "making sure we have safe reliable water at a reasonable rate, and the infrastructure for the reclaimed water. Many of the urban areas have achieved such a high conservation rate already that if it's not for the reclaimed water we wouldn't be able to reach that target, so that's key for us," Bradford said.

New laws promote saving water and protecting the Sacramento Bay Delta's water supply and ecosystem. But the linchpin of the package, Schwarzenegger said, will be the $11 billion bond measure the legislature has voted to put to the public next year.

Friday's ceremony took place at the Tujunga spreading grounds, an aquifer in Sun Valley. Pankaj Parekh manages water quality for the L.A. Department of Water and Power. He says the aquifer could store water for a million people to use – under the right circumstances. "It is a jewel for our city," he said. "It is tarnished. Over the years we have had some careless, perhaps ignorant use on top of the aquifer, and it has blemished our aquifer. We need help cleaning it up."

L.A. already searches for water purification strategies at that site. The bond measure would place new emphasis on studying water stored in underground sediment and rock by creating a pool of money to invest in projects like this one.

The bond would also provide a clearer path for a peripheral canal, and a pot of money that could pay for surface storage, or dams. Once the bond was completely sold, the state legislative analyst's office said it could create around $800 million of debt service each year. Lawmakers have said that bond is the only way they could meet all the needs they found in the state's water infrastructure. Voters will decide for themselves next November.