The state Senate voted Thursday to end California's participation in a joint authority created eight years ago to rescue the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta from collapse and resolve persistent water disputes.
The bill, which goes to the Assembly, would disband the California Bay-Delta Authority. The entity includes representatives from six state and six federal agencies and had been charged with implementing the California-Federal Bay-Delta Program to repair the delta.
The authority was created by a joint agreement between the state and federal governments in 2000 as the governing body for Cal-Fed as part of an effort that began several years before to end infighting between government agencies and interest groups representing farmers, fishermen, cities and environmentalists. It has been plagued ever since by bureaucratic disagreements over funding and priorities.
An investigation last year by the Associated Press found that most of the almost $5 billion that has been spent on the Cal-Fed program has gone to projects hundreds of miles from the delta.
"The delta is in worse condition today despite the authority," said Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden (San Joaquin County), the bill's author. "The authority has outlived its usefulness."
The influence of the California Bay-Delta Authority has been in decline in recent years, as court decisions, lighter snowpacks and other factors increasingly dictate the direction of water debates.
Last year, a federal judge cut water pumping from the delta by a third to protect a native fish, compounding a statewide water shortage. That decision came after the state slashed the authority's administrative budget and reassigned most of its projects and staff to other state agencies.
State Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Salinas, who represents a district in the southern delta, said he would like to see an accounting of the authority's spending.
"It just hasn't been effective," he said after the Senate voted 25-8 in favor of the bill. "I think a further in-depth look needs to happen to see exactly where all of that money went, because we certainly see the expenditures being made but no improvements being made."
Despite the Bay-Delta Authority's many problems, Machado's bill caught a key lawmaker by surprise.
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