Flood control remains a lively topic in Sacramento, as ramifications of a 2003 court decision making the state fiscally liable for Central Valley levees become clearer (seeCP&DR, March 2005).

In mid-May, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill (SB 94, Migden) that awards $45 million in state compensation to victims of a 1997 Feather River levee break in Yuba County. Four people died in the New Year's Day flood near Marysville, which spawned a lawsuit with 622 plaintiffs. They will share the $45 million settlement.

Meanwhile, a state Senate budget subcommittee approved a measure that would prohibit approval of a tentative subdivision map or building permits unless the first habitable floor of residential units in areas protected by levees is at least one foot above the expected flood level in the case a levee failure. Alternatively, local governments could approve new houses only in levee-protected areas with at least 100-year flood protection, with 133-year flood protection as of 2008, or with 200-year flood protection as of 2012. Homebuilders have vowed to fight the measure.

On the other side of the Capitol, Assemblyman John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) gutted his bill that would have established a Central Valley Flood Control Assessment District to tax landowners for increased flood protection. Laird's AB 1665 had the administration's support but ran into a buzz saw of opposition from local governments and landowners.

THE DEPARTMENT OF WATER RESOURCES has released a new draft of the California Water Plan. The draft is far different from past water plans and from a stakeholder draft released in the final days of the Davis administration (see CP&DR, November 2003).

Past state water plans projected a water balance. For example, the last update, in 1998, predicted that California would face an annual water shortfall of 3 million to 7 million acre-feet annually in 2020. This time around, DWR has provided three scenarios: current trends, less resource intensive, and more resource intensive, all with different numbers attached. The plan also contains two broad initiatives - promotion of regional water management, and improvement of statewide water management systems. The emphasis on regional approaches is another departure from past state water plans.

The water plan, formally known as Bulletin 160-05, makes 14 recommendations for state decision-makers and agencies. Among the recommendations are:

o Invest in sustainable and affordable water conservation, water management and development of water supplies.
o Provide incentives to regional and local agencies, and utilities, to prepare integrated resource and drought contingency plans.
o Evaluate and propose management strategies to remediate the cause and effects of surface and groundwater contamination.
o Rehabilitate aging water and wastewater infrastructure.
o Predict and prepare for the effects of global climate change.

Thirteen public hearings on the water plan are scheduled around the state this month. The deadline to comment is June 30. The plan is available at www.waterplan.ca.gov.

ALTHOUGH ITS AUTHORS said it was not a response to the draft state water plan, the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) released, “No Time to Waste: A Blueprint for California Water” only three weeks after the state water plan hit the streets. Among ACWA's recommendations are:

o Improve the existing Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta water conveyance system to increase flexibility and enhance water supply, water quality, levee stability and environmental protection in the near term.
o Evaluate long-term threats to the Delta levee and conveyance system and pursue actions to reduce risks to the state's water supply and the environment.
o Ensure delivery of adequate Colorado River supplies for Southern California and defend California's rights on the Colorado River.
o Develop additional groundwater and surface water storage.
o Work with local agencies to overcome constraints to developing seawater and brackish groundwater desalination projects.
o Modernize the federal Endangered Species Act and other laws and regulations to allow water infrastructure projects, water supply and water quality activities to proceed while protecting species and habitats.
o Support integrated regional water management plans.

An ACWA task force spent a year devising the plan, which the organization said is aimed at federal and state decision-makers.

The plan is available at www.acwa.com.

THE RACE BETWEEN the City of San Jose and Santa Clara County to build a mid-sized performing arts hall may have become more complicated. In early May, Bill Graham Presents, a subsidiary of entertainment company Clear Channel, announced it plans to book up to 80 concerts a year at the Civic Auditorium, a 70-year-old, 3,000-seat facility in downtown San Jose.

The city and county have fought over dueling concert hall proposals, with the county pursuing a 7,000-seat facility at the fairgrounds, about five miles south of downtown, while the city considers becoming a partner in a new 5,000-seat downtown venue (see CP&DR Public Development, December 2004). Neither the city nor the county would admit that their plans had changed because of the Bill Graham Presents promotions.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER announced in May that roadless areas in California's national forests will remain roadless.

The Bush administration has moved to give states a bigger role in setting national forest policy in hopes of increasing natural resources production. That put California's Republican governor in an awkward position because he campaigned as a proponent of environmental protection (see CP&DR Environment Watch, April 2005, Marc 2005).

The governor's announcement also promised that the state Resources Agency “will work to ensure the quality of wildlife habitat conservation, community safety and broad public support for watershed-based forest management practices.”

Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman added, “In October of last year we said we were interested in having a rule specific to California so that our forests would remain roadless. We are thankful that USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and the USFS [U.S. Forest Service] have agreed to develop a rule specific to California.”

YOLO COUNTY'S PLANNED ACQUISITION of 17,300 acres of farmland and habitat received a boost in May when a local Indian tribe that operates a thriving casino announced it would help finance the county's purchase of Conaway Ranch. The Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians revealed it has entered a partnership with the county to preserve the ranch for “public benefit.”

Yolo County commenced eminent domain proceedings to acquire the Conaway Ranch last year (see CP&DR Local Watch, August 2004). County supervisors said they feared that developers would try to build on the property or would sell its rights to 80,000 acre-feet of surface water. A group of Sacramento-area developers purchased the real estate for a reported $60 million from a PG&E subsidiary after the county filed its condemnation action.

The developers were critical of the county-tribe agreement. “The potential use of gambling profits to condemn private property and water rights is an issue the people of Yolo County should not take lightly,” they said in a written statement.

Possibly complicating the deal is a plan to make the tribe a member of the Conaway Ranch Joint Powers Authority (JPA), whose members now include the county, three cities, the University of California, Davis, and a flood control district. State law prohibits tribes from joining a JPA, but Assemblywoman Lois Wolk (D-Davis) has said she would carry a bill permitting the agreement.

ONE ENTITY THAT HAS ALREADY DEALT WITH the issue of tribal membership in a joint powers authority is the Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG). The regional body has nine cities, Riverside County and three Indian tribes as members.

“They [the tribes] are not official members of the JPA,” explained agency Executive Director John Wohlmuth. “They are participating members of CVAG through a memorandum of understanding. It's a very good relationship.” Since 1998, the Agua Caliente, Cabazon and Torres Martinez bands have had voting rights and paid dues, he said.

Both the Southern California Association of Governments and the Western Riverside Council of Governments (WRCOG) are studying the CVAG model while they consider new relationships with tribal governments. The western Riverside County region is home to five tribal nations. Rick Bishop, WRCOG executive director, said his council recognizes that tribes have a great deal of influence these day and have a desire to join the regional body. Bishop expects a decision within a few months.