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Water Talks Extended As New Proposal Emerges

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

The land within the boundaries of the proposed Sites Reservoir in Colusa County.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

The clock was about to run out for Gov. Jerry Brown and California lawmakers, so they’ve bought themselves more time to reach a deal on a replacement to the $11 billion water bond on the November ballot.

As the clock ticked towards 5pm Monday – the deadline for the Secretary of State’s office to start printing voter guides for the November election – politicians, staffers and lobbyists scrambled throughout the Capitol to figure out what was in the latest water bond draft, and whether there was enough momentum to extend the deadline.

“It’s not a finished product. And we’ve communicated that to the governor and to the Dem(ocratic) leaders,” said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), referring to Brown’s new $7.2 billion water bond proposal, negotiated with Democratic legislative leaders.

Huff says the $2.5 billion for surface storage like dams and reservoirs falls short of the $3 billion that water agencies say they need for two key projects. “We’re trying to get to the two facilities. So if we can find a pathway to that, then we can find a pathway to passing the bond.”

So Republicans voted with majority Democrats to extend the voter guide deadline by 48 hours to allow more time for negotiations.

Environment and Delta groups are criticizing the latest proposal. They say there are loopholes in the language that they believe would help the governor’s twin tunnel plan.

But Democratic Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) insists the new draft is “tunnel neutral.”

“It allows money for flows; it allows money for Delta ecosystem restoration. It’s just very clear that those dollars cannot be used as mitigation for the tunnel project. And I think that is a fair compromise,” Steinberg said.

Lawmakers now have until 5pm Wednesday to reach a deal – or push the deadline back again.