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Water bond could mean $75 million for Auburn-based state agency

Sierra Nevada Conservancy would use funding for watershed projects in Sierra
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - It may be small change in comparison to the $11 billion that’s being sought. But the $75 million included in the proposed California Water Bond will provide a major funding boost to the Auburn-based Sierra Nevada Conservancy. The bond question – on the Nov. 6 ballot and officially known as the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2012 – would allow state government to borrow $11.1 billion to upgrade the state’s water system. The eight-year-old conservancy, headquartered in a Blocker Drive office complex, has a mission to improve the environmental, economic and social well-being of the Sierra Nevada region. It receives no support from the state general fund but has dipped into more than $40 million from Prop. 84 coffers to fund forest fire-fuels reduction, conservation easements and watershed restoration. Executive Officer Jim Branham said that the $75 million included in the Water Bond would provide funding for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy to continue its mission. The conservancy still has about $14 million from Prop. 84, which was approved by voters in 2006. The Sierra Nevada could also be in line for another allocation from the water bond through the Department of Water Resources’ Integrated Regional Water Management Program. While the conservancy wouldn’t be controlling an estimated $45 million from that allocation, it is meant to fund water-related projects in the mountain counties from the Feather River in the north to the Tuolumne River. “Those are big pots of money that would undoubtedly be spent in the Sierra Nevada but there are no guarantees,” Branham said. Nevada County Supervisor Ted Owens, who represents an area that includes Placer County on the Sierra Nevada Conservancy board, said that while some elements of the water bond are necessary, he’s not in support of spending that would result in the state taking on any more debt. “I wouldn’t be in support of it at this time because it’s bloated,” Owens said. The water bond was initially set to be on the 2010 ballot but delayed two years because total bond debt had reached $89 billion and legislators were divided on whether to move ahead with it. Some of the biggest expenditures within the bond act are for water storage projects ($3 billion) and projects that “support delta sustainability options ($2.25 billion).” Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council, said that he supports passage of the water bond in part because of the inclusion of funding for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. The funding the conservancy has received has created jobs in site restoration and fire-fuel treatment in the forests, while helping to manage upstream water supply challenges, he said. “It’s absolutely critical,” Frisch said. “To work effectively, it needs to be funded. The grants it has received so far have been incredibly beneficial to the region.”