Editor’s note: Over the next few weeks before the general election, the Town Crier will review the propositions and local elections on the ballots.
California Proposition 1, the Water Bond, targets and proposes to revamp state water supply infrastructure. If passed by voters, $7.12 billion in bonds would be issued to fund a variety of infrastructure improvements including: upgrading public water systems, increasing surface and groundwater storage, protecting drinking water statewide, addressing water recycling and advanced water treatment technology, improving state water supply management and conveyance, treating wastewater, increasing emergency water supplies, restoring and protecting state ecosystems and watersheds and generally finding ways to provide drought relief over the long term.
Calendar year 2013 was the driest in recorded California history and the state is currently in a drought emergency declared in January by Gov. Jerry Brown. In September the governor signed legislation requiring sustainable groundwater management for the first time in state history.
Brown called on the legislature to replace a previous $11.14 billion water bond measure with the current Proposition 1, calling Proposition 43 (the $11.14 billion bond) pork-laden with a price tag “beyond what’s reasonable or affordable.” The legislature passed the new $7.12 billion bond on Aug. 13 with wide bipartisan support.
That the state is in a water emergency, few dispute. It is how to address the emergency and how to protect state water resources in the near and long-term future that is in question by measure opponents.
Opponents, sport fishers and river and stream public water ownership advocates, cite what they say are high-cost dam building and infrastructure projects that would negatively affect river and stream environments. They further stress that the measure requires taxpayers to foot the bill of systemic structural improvements that opponents say have not solved California water problems in the past — so-called projects benefiting the “hydraulic brotherhood.” They also stress the addition of more bond debt at a time when other critical infrastructure needs, principally public schools, roads, public health and safety, also need addressing. But while opposing Proposition 1 as a “corporate money grab” (Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, field director of the “No” campaign) benefitting special interests, opponents suggest no alternative measures to address the current and likely continuing water crisis.
Proposition 1 is widely backed by a broad range of organizations, including the California Chamber of Commerce, The Nature Conservancy, the California Farm Bureau Federation, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties and the Audubon Society.
Specifically, the Water Bond recommends $520 million to improve potable water quality and reduce drinking water contaminants in disadvantaged communities (this provision the opposition endorses); $1.495 billion for “competitive grants for multi-benefit ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration projects;” $810 million for expenditures, competitive grants, and loans to integrated regional water management plan projects; $2.7 billion for water storage projects, dams and reservoirs; $725 million for water recycling and advanced water treatment technology projects; $900 million for competitive grants and loans for projects to present or clean up contamination of groundwater that serves as sources for drinking water; and $395 million for statewide flood management projects.
The legislative vote to approve the Water Bond (Cal. AB1471) was 97 percent in the Assembly and 100 percent in the Senate.
For more information, research the voter guide (voterguide.sos.ca.gov), the “Yes” and “No” campaigns online and the Legislative Analyst’s projection of cost to taxpayers ($360 million annually over the next 40 years with savings to local governments related to water projects of a couple of million dollars annually over the next 20 or so years.)