Focus is returning to California's seemingly perennial struggle to find a solution to its water woes. On Friday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a formal drought proclamation, a move to raise awareness of the state's water shortage.
Last Thursday, Sen. Dave Cogdill, a Modesto Republican, introduced a water bond bill (SB 371) after similar efforts stalled last year. Sen. Dean Florez, the No. 2 Democrat in the house, introduced a counter measure (SB 301).
Even the federal government is getting involved. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack created the Federal Drought Action Team to work with the state last week.
"This is very encouraging news," Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement of the task force. "California is in the grip of one of the worst drought emergencies on record."
Interest groups are mobilizing, as well. The business lobby is already backing Cogdill's plan, saying the state's current water system is "faltering." The Florez measure totals $15 billion in bonds, while the Cogdill measure is worth nearly $10 billion.
"We must pass a comprehensive plan this year that will increase storage, improve conveyance, provide important environmental protections and conserve resources," said Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce.
The battle lines in the water storage fight are well drawn: Agricultural interests (and usually Republicans) favor building more reservoirs, while environmentalists (and usually Democrats) don't. There's also the issue of who should pay, as in whether the costs for new storage should be borne by those who use the water or by the state as a whole.
And, of course, there is the question of whether or not a peripheral canal should be included to divert water from the Delta.
Compounding the urgency of the situation is California's current water shortage, with reservoirs between 35 percent and 45 percent of capacity following what's been a three-year drought.
"Our water crisis underscores the urgent need to update California's water infrastructure," Schwarzenegger said in a statement welcoming Cogdill's water bond proposal.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who chaired the Natural Resources Committee in the Senate last session, has said a water deal is a priority.
"Let's get a water infrastructure bond done," he said in his first speech as leader. "It's ready to be closed."
The Visalia-Times Delta has reported other water bond plans will surface in the Assembly. But any water deal is widely expected to begin in the upper house, where Cogdill, until recently the GOP leader, has carved out both an expertise and a relationship with the governor. Steinberg is familiar with the issues, both policy-wise and political, as well.
While the recent rainstorms may dampen the public's perception of the severity of the drought, water shortages in the coming months remain likely.
"It's just a drop in the bucket when compared to the epic drought the state is currently facing," said Cogdill in a statement.
(Updated: Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, also has introduced a $9.8 billion water bond, SB 456.)
Here's a breakdown of what's in the Cogdill and Florez legislation, from E.J. Schultz at the Fresno Bee:
SB 371 by Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto
Total cost: $9.98 billion
* $3 billion for water storage
* $2.4 billion for the delta and for water conveyance
* $1.5 billion for regional water supplies
* $1 billion for river restoration
* $950 million for water quality
* $610 million for watershed improvements
SB 301 by Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter
Total cost: $15 billion
* $7 billion for water storage and other projects
* $2 billion for delta improvements
* $1.5 billion in competitive grants for water supply
* $1 billion for conveyance
* $1 billion for local water districts
* $1 billion for watershed improvements
Photo: Ken Hockensmith of Folsom walks with his dog, Dicey, at Folsom Lake. The water is alarmingly low Jan. 31, 2009. Credit: Autumn Cruz/Sacramento Bee