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Of deceit, theft & Sacramento water bonds

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POSTED July 14, 2010 3:00 a.m.
State Sen. Lois Wolk should have no problem selling folks in southwest rural Manteca that the Proposition 18 water bond is a gigantic waste of money.

They have every reason to view water bonds - even one not stuffed full of pork with undefined costs as the one coming up on the Nov. 2 ballot - with distrust.

That distrust is rooted in the lies and deception involved with Proposition 13 - not the 1978 property tax revolt measure but the ballot proposition by the same number that was passed in 2000.

It too was a water bond that proposed spending $1.97 billion on flood protection, drinking water, water quality, and water reliability. A large chunk of that money - $800 million - was dedicated to address the perennial flooding concerns including on the San Joaquin River between the confluence with the Stanislaus River and Mossdale Crossing.

The bond measure was created in part to the 1997 floods that ravaged California due to a heavy Sierra snowpack that melted with unseasonably warm late December 1996 rains. One of the hardest hit areas was 70 square miles between Manteca and Tracy where close to $100 million in property damage occurred when the San Joaquin and Stanislaus levees failed in nine different locations.

More than 2,000 structures suffered damage and thousands of people were uprooted. Parts of the rural area - specifically numerous homes at Weatherbee Lake - were underwater for weeks.

The area in question has flooded 11 times since 1927. Rural Manteca had another close call in May of 2005 when high May river levels fed by a late snowmelt threatened to overpower levees.

Farmers and river watchers offer plenty of antidotal evidence that dredging would substantially address the issue of flooding between Vernalis just below where Westside water drains back into river with tons of silt and Mossdale.

Former Gov. Gray Davis with the help of the California Legislature swiped $1 billion in bond proceeds to fund year-to-year Department of Water Resources operations instead of keeping it for the only purpose the public authorized the money to be borrowed for - flood and water storage projects.

What prompted the theft in 2002? What else but a state budget deficit.

Of course, the state constitution prohibits them from using bond money for general fund purposes unless it is paid back which, of course, it hasn’t been so far.

Former State Sen. Mike Machado - an expert in his own right in water issues - when pressed about how such a hijacking could be justified said it was simple: One couldn’t have a water policy or plan without a Department of Water Reprocess.

Strange but we still have the Department of Water Resources and no effective water plan.

Yes, it is a complicated and complex issue with pitfalls everywhere. But the California Legislature itself poisoned the well, so to speak, when it comes to approving water bonds by their outright act of thievery coupled with deceit.

The real wealth of this state was developed from harnessing its water resources. Mother Nature left to her own devices would flood the Great Central Valley each spring as snow pack run-off turns what are now fertile farmlands and teeming cities into a gigantic inland lake.

When the blazing days of summer rolled around the valley would be transformed into a wasteland.

We all live in a fantasy land whether we reside in Los Angeles, Manteca, San Francisco or Sacramento.

Our great cities shouldn’t be located where they are on the semi-arid coast or the rocky peninsula as there are limited resources of water in those locales. Nor should the Central Valley reign as the world’s most productive farm region.

Agriculture thrived through the combined efforts of creating farm islands with levees out of the Delta that cycles from flooded lake, to swamp, to semi-dried out wasteland as well as the building of the great dams.

The California Aqueduct - and other major water canals that supply water to the lower San Joaquin Valley farmlands - is what kept the transformation of California going.

But guess what? We haven’t done anything to enhance or expand either flood control or increase water storage in California for more than 40 years.

And certainly we can’t trust the current crop of politicians in Sacramento to do the right thing with a blank check. Proposition 13 in 2000 made that crystal clear.
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