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Daily Pilot

Water issue rises in state

With much of Orange County's supply brought in from elsewhere, continued flow remains a puzzle.

By Jill Cowan

10:10 PM PST, January 24, 2013

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"Water, water and water."

Those, State Sen. Michael Rubio (D-Shafter) told the crowd at a Municipal Water District of Orange County event Wednesday evening, are the "top three most important issues" facing California's Legislature.

But even as chairman of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee and a native of the Central Valley — where fights over water can be something of a blood sport — Rubio said he's still only "scratched the surface" of one of the state's biggest puzzles.

Rubio was the keynote speaker at the policy forum and dinner in the Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel's Costa Mesa room. MWDOC is a wholesale water supplier that works with smaller agencies around the county to distribute water.

The event also honored Jim Blake, former director of MWDOC.

In his talk, which he gave before catching a late flight out of John Wayne Airport, Rubio said building a Peripheral Canal system to move water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is "the single most important project in the state."

He also stressed that although it undoubtedly will be a contentious undertaking as legislators jockey to retain big pieces of California's water pie for their regions, there should be continuity throughout the water system.

Rubio said other tough water-related tasks ahead include work on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which aims to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and getting a water bond passed.

Though those challenges have "plagued the state for years," what's different now, he said, is the Democratic supermajority in the Legislature — meaning inaction can't be blamed on Republicans stymieing the process.

Furthermore, he said, "We have a governor who's proved he can get some stuff done." And he added, "I think this governor has learned from the past."

MWDOC Director Larry Dick commended Rubio for making strong efforts to understand water issues.

He said that while most Orange County residents don't think too much about where their water comes from, it's important to realize that much of their water comes from outside the county — roughly 50%.

This, he said, is largely because the county doesn't have much ground water.

"You try to drill a well in Newport Beach, you get sea water," he said.

Still, in spite of the issue's complexities, Dick said, "I'm delighted to know the senator is aware of these things and he's willing to work with us."

jill.cowan@latimes.com

Twitter: @jillcowan