Gov. Jerry Brown’s luck has turned from amazing to ghastly throughout his long, strange career in American politics, but for the last few years he’s been sailing along at the zenith. For instance: After a couple of false starts, he and his people eventually settled on putting his $11 $6.5 billion water bond before voters on the November 2014 ballot. The bond would dramatically rebuild California’s water-delivery infrastructure. Brown has been pushing for it or something like it since his governorship in the 1970s, when his Peripheral Canal flopped.

[Ed. note — Your Lost Coast Outpost blew it pretty big here by not updating the amount of the bond, which was reduced between 2012 and 2014. Apologies.]

Brown and his allies ended up choosing this fall’s ballot because it was hoped that the state will have climbed out of its deficit by then, making large-scale borrowing at least a little more palatable to voters. But how did any of them know that the state would, at the same time, be hit with its worst drought in history? The more thirsty people get, we can safely say, the more they’ll be willing to go into their pockets to slake that thirst.

This morning, the California Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife is holding a hearing on the water bond in the chambers of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors. The room is packed up to and nearly beyond standing-room-only capacity – there are perhaps 140 people in the room. Four members of the assembly are in attendance, including our own Assembleymember, Wes Chesbro, and Anthony Rendon, the committee’s chair and author of the water bond legislation in the Assembly.

The meeting is “informational,” which means that members are here to listen to the concerns of local residents and water stakeholders. First, the four assemblymembers heard from a local panel composed of representatives from local tribes – the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa. Later they heard from fishing industry representatives and representatives from other local agencies. (See the full agenda at this link. At this link here, find the committee’s North Coast backgrounder on the water bond.)

The mood, so far, seems one of resignation. In the first part of today’s session there was a sense that the bond is going to happen this time around. At the very least, no one seems to want to be on the wrong side of it. No one was denouncing it. Instead, people are critiquing specific items in the bond legislation in the hopes that it can yet be altered to the North Coast’s advantage. (Disclosure: Your correspondent had to split just before the second panel ended, and before the floor was opened for public comment.)

At one point, Chesbro noted that he voted against the bond the first time around. This time around he’s working with Rendon and others to shape the thing. “I’m not there yet,” he said, “but if we get it right then I certainly will be supportive.”

During the tribal panel, there were a couple of main themes offered to the committee that would go a long way toward “getting things right,” at least as far as the North Coast was concerned.

In the first place – and least surprisingly – several speakers sought assurance that the bond would not affect the federal courts’ record of decision on Trinity flows, the action that returned a bunch of agribiz-claimed water to the Klamath-Trinity ecosystem. Since the Trinity is the only North Coast river that is partially diverted to Central Valley/Southern California, there is particular cause for concern that a rewrite of the state’s water systems might affect it more than other local rivers. Josh Saxton of the Karuk Tribal Council specifically requested that bond legislation confirm Humboldt County’s rights to 50,000 acre-feet of water per year. The Bureau of Reclamation promised the county that much water back when Lewiston Dam was built, but it has never delivered.

Both Saxton and Dave Hillemeyer, who represented the Yurok Tribe, also took serious issue with a provision of the bond that is set up to fund fisheries restoration around the state. It turns out that the bond divvies out this restoration money to each region of the state based on its population. In other words, urbanized areas like Southern California and the Bay Area would receive the great bulk of the bonds restoration money. The productive but damaged salmonid habitat of the North Coast would receive almost nothing.

One can understand the political logic of this, Hillemeyer pointed out, but it makes less sense biologically: “It almost seems like if you want to get ban for the buck, that there’s an inverse relationship between population and restoration opportunities.”

The bond isn’t all about the north state getting shafted, which is why Chesbro and others have seem to have complicated feelings about it. It includes $250 million toward the Klamath Settlement Agreements, which would completely fund the state’s agreed-upon financial obligations. Those agreements, which include removal of the Klamath hydropower dams and a new division of water resources, is currently stalled out in Congress.

Rendon urged all the panelists to be in contact with his office, and also with Chesbro and other elected members of the Assembly. “This is why we’re here,” he said. “We want to get feedback from the local community. 

The whole meeting was broadcast on Access Humboldt. It’ll be up on their page soon.