At least some of those in the fight to get a water bond on the ballot to pay for badly needed new water development in California were not just surprised that it finally passed, but the $11 billion price tag was almost out of the blue, far more than many expected by at least $1 billion.

Kevin Andrews of Bakersfield, outgoing president of Western Growers, was prepared to tell association members at Western’s annual convention in Las Vegas that they must keep up the fight to develop new water sources, not just for agriculture, but for all Californians. He was ready to report another disappointing loss in a water fight.

Instead, on the day Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was signing the $11.1 billion water bond package, Andrews hailed it as a huge victory.

However, no one is calling it a signed, sealed and delivered deal. It has only been signed.

It is only the beginning. Voters must approve it next November and that will be far more arduous than getting a dysfunctional California Legislature and a combative governor to agree to the deal in the first place.

Agriculture can take a bow for brokering the deal, but there will be no curtain call unless the bond issue passes. Let’s be honest about it; chances are not good.

Voters will not argue that the state needs new water development and conservation to provide for the future. However, California’s fiscal future is about as rosy as an over-the-limit credit card with a 35 percent interest rate.

California may have to mortgage the state Capitol to get anyone to float the bonds. Might as well offer it for sale to McDonald’s as a new Golden Arches venue. Ronald can probably pay cash for it.

According to an article in the Fresno Bee, the debt service on the $11 billion bond will be as much as $809.3 million annually. This is money state employee labor unions want for pay raises. You can bet they are going to line up in opposition to the water bond.

There has never been an issue on a California ballot with more at stake than the water bond come November.

How do you get the majority of the electorate to go along with this when they have already been punished with such things as increases in state income taxes, increases in sales taxes, and auto license fees doubling — and still the state debt is to soon go back to $15 billion?

It is going to take a Herculean, urban-rural unified front never before seen in this state. It is going to be take people saying, “Maybe I don’t like everything that is in the bond package, but I will get over it for the well-being of California.”

The mass media will be all over the opposition with coverage. It is going to take people willing to go toe-to-toe with the self-serving naysayers, telling them if they don’t want California to have a reliable water supply to take a hike to Oregon, Montana or someplace else.

The vote in November is not: “Well if it does not pass this time, we will start over.” There is no starting over. The first step has been taken and the journey must be finished.

email: hcline@farmpress.com