Recommendation for Proposition 1: Water Bond. Funding for Water Quality, Supply, Treatment, and Storage Projects

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Water Bond--The LWVC could enthusiastically support many of the projects funded by Prop 1, such as the cleanup and prevention of polluted groundwater; drinking and wastewater treatment projects; and water recycling, rainwater capture, conservation, and water-use efficiencies that will help reduce demand on water resources over the long term. However, we have serious concerns that the measure favors large surface water storage projects and gives control over that spending to a commission composed of political appointees with no budgetary oversight by the legislature. Balancing the positive and negative aspects of the measure, we remain neutral.

The LWVC board carefully considered Prop 1 and decided to remain neutral on this measure.

The League opposed the previous $11.14 billion water bond measure that was planned for the 2010 ballot but rescheduled, first for the 2012 ballot and then for this 2014 ballot as Prop 43. As we noted in 2010, our Natural Resources positions “strongly support conservation and other nonstructural alternatives to help solve our water problems,” but that bond measure “encourage[d] continued reliance on major infrastructure construction, with only a small percentage of the money allocated to conservation and nonstructural alternatives.” We also objected that “Significant portions . . . are designated for activities for which long-term debt is financing is not appropriate, such as plans, grants, loans, and studies not directly related to the infrastructure projects funded by the bond measure.” We signed ballot arguments submitted in opposition to that measure before it was pulled from the ballot in 2010 and again in opposition to Prop 43 this year.

In June of this year we reminded legislators of our concerns about that earlier bond measure and urged them to produce a new water bond that could be embraced “with the confidence that the funds appropriated will be used to improve water conservation, efficiency, and regional resilience to help Californians cope with the current and future droughts.” (See the text of our letter.)

Prop 1 is the result of the legislature’s and governor’s actions to remove Prop 43 from the ballot and replace it with a smaller ($7.545 billion) measure that has many desirable features, including less “pork.” A significant portion of the bond funds would enable projects that the LWVC could support:

  • Water recycling, rainwater harvesting, and conservation would help improve efficiencies and dampen demand on water resources over the longer term.
  • Some small communities and disadvantaged communities would benefit from funds that build infrastructure for reliable delivery of clean water and treatment of wastewaters.
  • The $900 million allocated for groundwater is an important step toward better management of this vital resource.

For these reasons, the LWVC does not oppose Prop 1.

However, the League has concerns about certain provisions of Prop 1 that make it impossible for us to support the measure. These include:

  • League positions do not support Prop 1’s largest allocation, $2.7 billion for water storage projects. While we could support some regional groundwater projects, language in the measure itself favors large surface storage projects (dams and reservoirs).
  • Spending on those storage projects would be in the hands of a commission (the California Water Commission) composed of political appointees with no budgetary oversight by the legislature.
  • The measure includes funding for enhanced stream flows to promote restoration of endangered species and enhance water supply reliability. Taxpayers should not be asked to subsidize water purchases to meet the environmental obligations of exporters or to ensure reliable export supplies.
  • We are also concerned about encouraging projects that do not have sustainable sources of water or funding. We must rethink the way we allocate and use the limited supply of water in California as well as how we provide for ongoing costs for monitoring, operations, maintenance/repair and environmental mitigation for the many varieties of water projects.

Recognizing both good and bad aspects of Prop 1, we must remain neutral. This position of neutrality precludes activity in the name of the League, either in support of or against this proposition.

Related Issues: 

To promote a better understanding of California’s water issues and complexities, we offer background on California’s water resources, the demands on these resources, and the state’s current approach to water management.
Voters are likely to be faced with more large water bonds in future elections. Yet making informed decisions on these investments in managing California’s water resources are difficult given unclear answers to key questions such as:
• How should limited and unpredictable supplies be allocated among competing demands?
• Who is responsible and accountable for managing water supplies and quality?
• How much will it cost to ensure safe and reliable supplies for the public and environment?
• Who should pay?