California voters may be asked this year to approve $13 billion in two separate water bonds that promise to pay for safe drinking water and improve flood protection.
Proposition 68, the California Clean Water and Safe Parks Act, is a $4.1 billion measure and is already set for the June 5 ballot.
The state water resources control board estimates that 320 communities around the state lack a safe drinking water source.
The Water Supply and Water Quality Act is an $8.9 billion measure and could come up for a vote in November. The Secretary of State’s office is reviewing the signatures turned in and should decide by the end of the month whether the measure qualifies for the ballot.
The Association of California Water Agencies board voted unanimously to support both measures. “We view this as a complementary pair, we don’t view them as competitive,” said Executive Director Timothy Quinn.
The $13 billion in bonds are important to prime the local investment pump, he said. California spends $35 billion a year on water supplies and local agencies pay 85 percent of that cost with the state paying 13 percent and the federal government pays the remaining 2-to-3 percent, Quinn said.
Quinn’s group is particularly supportive of the money going to safe drinking water. Quinn pointed out that the state Water Resources Control Board estimates that 320 communities around the state lack a safe drinking water source.
It also includes $1.3 billion to improve state, county and local parks and promote tourism and $1.2 billion to protect natural resources
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has come out against Proposition 68 but hasn’t yet taken a position on the other measure.
Jon Coupal, the president of the organization, pointed out that the state has a surplus of several billion dollars and the money should be spent on water projects on a pay as you go basis. “You don’t take out a 40-year loan to pay regularly monthly expenses,” he said.
Coupal also sees a problem in that Proposition 68 includes no money for surface water storage (neither does the proposed November measure).
Proposition 68 allocates $550 million to protect local communities from flooding, $540 million to ensure safe drinking water, $357 million to protect and restore rivers, lakes and streams and $180 million to increase water supplies with groundwater cleanup and water recycling.
It also includes $1.3 billion to improve state, county and local parks and promote tourism and $1.2 billion to protect natural resources and prepare for natural disasters like wildfires, floods and droughts.
“We tried to go out of our way to bias the measure in favor of helping disadvantaged communities. No bond has done that much before.” — Gerald Meral
Senate Bill 5, authored by Sen. Kevin de León and approved by the Legislature, placed the measure on the ballot. The measure has the support of the League of California Cities, the California Chamber of Commerce and The Nature Conservancy among others.
The Water Supply and Water Quality Act, proposed for the November ballot, would give $750 million for sale water to disadvantaged communities, particularly in the Central Valley. There is $675 million earmarked for implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which would stabilize groundwater levels in overdraft groundwater basins, and $500 million slated for water for fisheries. The measure would give $100 million for Central Valley flood management and flood plain restoration and would provide funding for urban and agricultural conservation, storm water management and more.
Gerald Meral, the author of the initiative and director of the Natural Heritage Institute’s California Water Program, said the measure focuses on giving funds to poorer communities.
“We tried to go out of our way to bias the measure in favor of helping disadvantaged communities,” he said. “No bond has done that much before.”
The Sierra Club group opposes providing a public bond to fix the Friant-Kern Canal, saying those who pumped too much water and caused the subsidence should pay to fix the damage.
The measure will help restore the delivery capacity of the Friant-Kern Canal, which runs from Fresno to Bakersfield and provides water to 15,000 farms. The canal lost most of its capacity due to subsidence caused by overdraft of groundwater and is surrounded by low-income communities filled with farm workers who need employment. “It’s inconceivable that the canal should not be fixed,” Meral said.
He said the bonds are important because there is so much need for fixing and managing California’s water supplies. “I wouldn’t say it’s endless but the end is not in site,” he said. “The need for water infrastructure is huge and we have to respond to that.”
The Sierra Club opposes the initiative though it supports Proposition 68. The group opposes providing a public bond to fix the Friant-Kern Canal, saying those who pumped too much water and caused the subsidence should pay to fix the damage. The club is also worried that the measure could open the door for poorly thought-out dam projects.
California voters have a history of approving most water bonds. Since 1972, voters have approved 20 of 21 bond measures for water development. The only one that failed was in 1990. Voters last approved a water bond in 2014- Proposition 1, the Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Improvement Act, which authorized $7.5 billion for water improvements.