Roberta Borgonovo – SF League President (1979-1981)

  Roberta BorgonovoFrom the Story Bank:

I became a member of the League of Women Voters of San Francisco (LWVSF) in 1977, almost immediately after graduating from the CORO Women’s Program. The CORO program is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to train “ethical, diverse civic leaders nationwide.”

I took the CORO training because I was very interested in pursuing a career in governmental policy. However, I still had four children at home. Joining the League as a volunteer rather than working in the public sector provided a terrific education for me. Fortunately for me as it turned out, there were several studies underway, one of which was the Water Study of the League of Women Voters of California (LWVC). The study was completed in 1979 and led to the Water Position that is still guiding League action on the state level.

During my presidency of the LWVSF (1979-81), California was in a water crisis—very similar to the situation we see today. A drought-prone state with the largest population in the U. S. will always find managing water resources a challenge. After completing my term as president, I found that the Water Study had captured my interest. I became active with the LWV Bay Area Water Committee, and later served with Polly Smith as LWVC Water Co-Director, carrying the water portfolio for the LWVC. I still carry the portfolio of off-board Program Director for Water for the LWVC. Polly (LWV Marin County) is deceased but I still miss her sage advice and our long talks about water issues of all sorts.

During the 1980s, Polly and I attended the sessions of California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), which has the power to set flow standards for the San Francisco—Sacramento/San Joaquin Bay Delta. Our League water position calls for strong environmental protections to ensure enough freshwater flows to the Bay-Delta to sustain the health of this largest estuary on the West Coast. The State Board hearings were important since it is this arena in which the standards are set. Consequently, Polly and I spent many hours in Sacramento.

Those of us concerned with the need to protect the environment of the Bay-Delta estuary argued before the SWRCB that the large freshwater diversions for agricultural and urban users should be cut back. During the long and complex history of these water battles before the SWRCB, there were several attempts to reach consensus among the stakeholder interests—urban, agricultural, and environmental. One of these consensus attempts led to the negotiation of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the urban water agencies and environmental interests. The MOU was signed in 1991 and created a list of Best Management Practices for urban water conservation that urban water agency signatories agreed to implement, under certain conditions. I was part of those negotiations, which led to the formation of the California Urban Water Conservation Council (CUWCC). I still serve on the Steering Committee for the CUWCC as the representative of the LWVC.

Another resource-intensive arena in which I was active was the CALFED Bay-Delta process and the Council which oversaw the process. This state-federal council was formed in 1995, again as a result of intense negotiations over how much freshwater would flow through the Bay-Delta to the ocean. The Council included representatives of state and federal agencies and stakeholders from agricultural, urban, and environmental sectors. I represented the LWVC and was part of the environmental bloc.

To explain, CALFED was an effort to coordinate the many state (CAL) and federal (FED) agencies that have a role in managing California’s water resources. The goal was to produce a comprehensive water management plan for the state. In 2000, this work culminated in a Record of Decision (ROD). The ROD approved a long-term plan for restoring ecological health and improving water management in the Bay-Delta system.

The CALFED process has since morphed into the current attempt to forge another agreement on how to manage California’s water resources. In late 2009, a water legislation package was the result. To implement this legislation, a gigantic 11 billion dollar water bond is expected to go before the voters in November of 2010. The LWVC at this minute is examining how we might provide objective information on the water bond’s complex issues that will confront the voters in November. We also hope that several local Leagues will sponsor educational forums on the water bond. As you can see, issues on water management will always be an important part of the League’s work.

In conclusion, I continue to be an active member of the League of Women Voters and credit the League with my education on many public issues, but particularly in the water management arena. On a final note, I took up tap dancing–a childhood dream of mine– after completing my LWVSF presidency in the 1980s, but, alas, nothing has come of that brief fling at show biz.

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