June ballot Prop 68 authorized $4 billion

Proposition 3, on the ballot in November, proposes issuance of $8.877 billion in general obligation bonds for water infrastructure improvement. Of the $8.877 billion, $3 billion is targeted for safe drinking water and water quality, $2.9 billion for watershed and fisheries improvements, $940 million for habitat protection, $855 million for improved water conveyance, $685 million for groundwater sustainability and storage, and $472 million for surface water storage and dam repairs.

Repayment of issued bonds over 40 years would generate interest of $8.4 billion, nearly doubling the price tag of this initiated state statute to $17.3 billion.

Proposition 68, on the June 2018 ballot, authorized $4 billion in bonds and passed by a solid majority (57.59 percent) of California voters. It, too, was a water infrastructure measure focused on many of the same objectives as November’s Prop 3. Cost to taxpayers over a 30-year repayment period at a 3.5-percent interest rate (interest of $2.5 billion) would total $6.53 billion.

Prop 68 allocated funds to state and local parks, environmental protection and restoration projects, water infrastructure projects and flood-protection projects.

Prop 3 authorizes spending for many of the same objectives, although its allocations are more clearly targeted to local agency and nonprofit projects than was the case in Prop 68.

Supporters, including the California Labor Federation, numerous agricultural associations and councils, and major Democratic office holders, including U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, argue that the measure will improve long-term drought preparedness, provide safe drinking water, especially to many in disadvantaged communities, increase mountain runoff recapture, repair existing canals that irrigate state agriculture and repair recently damaged Oroville and other state dams to keep communities safe and hold more water.

Opponents of Prop 3 argue that in all the proposed spending, there are no allocations for building new dams and transportation systems. They state that much of California’s agriculture and populace in big cities depends on water stored in and transported from dams, and that without new water recovery and storage spending, water supplies will be insufficient.

Opponents also argue that money from the measure benefits numerous environmental special interest groups without addressing major water infrastructure issues. They cite major donors as an indication of where money will be spent and who might be expected to benefit from passage of the measure.

With many propositions, voters are advised to “follow the money.” Committees in support of Prop 3 have raised more than $4 million for advocacy support. The largest contributors to the support committees are Ducks Unlimited ($400,000), the California Waterfowl Association ($395,000), Western Growers ($275,000), California Wildlife Foundation Fund ($200,000) and the American Pistachio Growers ($160,000). There are no committees registered in opposition to the measure.

Local Riverside County projects that could benefit from targeted funds include the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy with $25 million for restoration and protection of the Coachella Valley Watershed, and the Salton Sea ecosystem restoration project with $200 million to address air quality improvement and economic development for adjacent “severely disadvantaged communities.”

Media opposition focuses on the number of similar measures on the ballot, three in four years, and questions if and how California water infrastructure problems are being solved by multiple initiatives. The San Jose Mercury News calls Prop 3 a “classic ‘pay to play’ initiative” that allocates money throughout the state to special interests and local agencies without solving the state’s water reclamation, storage and distribution problems.

The Fresno Bee supports the measure because of how it will benefit local projects: “The Bee strongly recommends approval because of how Proposition 3 would directly benefit the Valley, fixing the Friant-Kern Canal, improving Sierra watersheds and getting clean water to Valley communities.”

Voters can review specific-targeted spending allocations, available online, to determine if this measure adequately addresses the state’s water infrastructure problems.