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Water bond fails initial Senate vote

SACRAMENTO -- Senate Democrats on Monday failed in an initial attempt to secure Republican support for overhauling the $11.1 billion water bond on the November ballot.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg brought the legislation to a vote because he said he wanted to force “an honest public discussion” about how to improve water supply in California, which is in a drought after three relatively dry years.

SB848 by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, fell short of the required two-thirds majority vote needed to pass, but it's not dead.

After it failed 22-9, Wolk made a procedural move that will allow the bill to be reconsidered later in the summer.

Democrats say voters are likely to reject the existing ballot measure if it remains on the general election ballot because it is perceived as containing too much special interest pork and being too supportive of a contentious tunnel project to divert water from the Northern California delta to farms and residents in the south.

The Legislature passed the current water bond in 2009 but has delayed it from going before voters twice out of fear that it would be defeated.

Steinberg said a bond that is perceived as promoting the tunnels, a project that is a priority of Gov. Jerry Brown, is likely to be defeated by voters.

The new version put forth by Senate Democrats is slightly smaller at $10.5 billion.

Supporters said it takes a neutral position on the tunnels, provides funding to improve the quality of drinking water supplies and maintains the $3 billion in the current bond to increase storage, primarily through building new dams or raising existing ones.

Maintaining money for dams was the top priority of Republican lawmakers, whose support is needed.

“If this is your signature priority, today is your chance,” Steinberg said.

Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said he believes voters will support the 2009 water bond that is currently on the ballot, given the water shortages facing many communities.

“I do believe that the voters of California, now having been confronted with this drought, will be sympathetic,” he said.

In the Assembly, several water bond overhauls are in the works, all of them less expensive than the Senate plan that came to a vote Monday.

Any new version of the water bond will have to pass both houses of the Legislature on a supermajority vote and gain support from minority Republicans.

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