Outside Looking In

By Joseph F. Mailander

Guest Columnist


Char Miller had to laugh when he read that California governor Jerry Brown might be following his father’s legacy by bringing an enormous water project, Proposition 1 (Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014), before California voters this November.

“[Brown’s] father’s legacy is actually concrete ditches running through the Central Valley,” Miller quipped to me. “The focus of this is something very different.”

What’s different about Prop. 1 (or the water bond proposition), according to Miller and many of the State Assembly and Senate legislators who voted to put the $7 billion proposition to the voters on November 4, is that the bond will present the opportunity for a significant departure from the old model of the water-rich north sending its Sierra runoff to the water-thirsty south.

“This is a rejection of the model that [William] Mulholland built and funded,” added Miller, W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College. “The state is no longer going to pursue Mulholland’s vision.”

If passed by voters, the bond will work to enable Los Angeles to become more self-sufficient in getting its own water and therefore less dependent on Northern California water.

The water bond act, considered by some a fait accompli as there are few political detractors, especially has the potential to affect the San Gabriel range and its foothills in a major way. A large portion of the $7 billion is earmarked for efforts involving natural conservancies. Through the work of the conservancies, especially the San Gabriel Mountains Regional Conservancy, Miller suggested that the executives in the governor’s office who decide where the bond money will go will have an opportunity to show and tell success stories involving water reclamation through work on the foothills watershed.

Miller thinks that there is added incentive for the executive to support the efforts of LA conservancies. He believes that preserving runoff areas damaged in the Station Fire in 2009 would be a great way for local politicians to point to a tangible, visible result.

But the state’s history of brokering such deals at the executive level—which is typically dominated by Northern California representatives—rather than through the legislature—which is weighted by population to favor Southern California—often has not worked out in the interest of folks in the south.

“We worked hard to make it a rather neutral process,” state assemblyman Mike Gatto (43rd District) said of the political mechanics behind the bond, suggesting that this time things will be different.

“This bond definitely errs on the side of the executive branch,” Gatto said, explaining that legislators will not vote directly on allocations, but will be obliged to lobby Brown’s appointees for fair distribution of funds. That could put a lot of pressure on LA’s Northeast Valley city councilman, Felipe Fuentes (District 7).

Fuentes, a former assemblyman himself, represents part of the Big Tujunga Wash and some of the foothill communities—including Sunland-Tujunga, Lake View Terrace, and Shadow Hills—that may benefit from groundwater cleanup and conservation efforts. But Los Angeles will most likely direct its efforts at claiming bond money through representatives from the city’s Department of Water and Power.

Fuentes’ office released a statement to The Foothill Record regarding the big water bond. The statement, in part, reads, “With $900 million dedicated to groundwater remediation, the water bond provides an opportunity for Los Angeles to obtain funds to clean up the San Fernando Basin. I believe the City will be competitive for these dollars, which would enable Los Angeles to develop its local water supply and rely less on imported water.”

Fuentes also urges voters to vote for the bond in November, and he has recently introduced a resolution to the LA City Council in support of Prop. 1.

Both Miller and Gatto are confident that passage of the proposition would mean putting Los Angeles on a sustainable track to generate its own water, something neither Mulholland nor Gov. Brown’s father, Gov. Pat Brown, ever visualized.

Gatto said, “The biggest thing we can do for sustainability in Los Angeles is to clean up our groundwater. The plume [of polluted groundwater] extends very far. The biggest chapter in the bill is the groundwater chapter, and the biggest groundwater plume that needs to be cleaned is here in LA. It’s my understanding that LA has a lot of need and that there will be bang for the buck.”

Miller explained, “The bond can provide for the reclamation of aquifers poisoned by aerospace as they pumped effluence into enormous local cisterns.” Clean up is something Miller thinks is badly needed in Southern California. And Gatto agrees.

“We need to clean up the groundwater,” the legislator insisted. “I think we’ll actually get there.”

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