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Do water woes help 2014 bond?

When it comes to water, there’s bad news flowing for the state and its farmers, water agencies, customers, environmentalists, home owners, towns, landscapers — you name it — as California faces a third consecutive dry year.

But even as the rain clouds appear sparse, there may be a silver lining for the backers of a major ballot measure: Experts say the grim outlook could spur voters to approve a multibillion-dollar bond facing voters in November 2014. It could bring to reality the need to borrow money and resolve some of the state’s water issues.

“We’re sort of at a point where it looks possible, but it’s not a done deal,” she added.

“If we really do have a dry year that may make it more likely that more people think there are reasons to urgently address some of the problems that the bond could potentially address,” said Ellen Hanak, an expert in natural resource management at the Public Policy Institute of California.

“What we found in September 2013 was that half of likely voters said they would vote for a $6.5 billion bond if the election were held today. That’s before there has been a campaign to promote it. So that could go up. On the other hand, that’s also before there has been a campaign to be negative about it,” Hanak said.

“We’re sort of at a point where it looks possible, but it’s not a done deal,” she added.

To improve its likelihood of winning voter approval next year, both houses of the Legislature spent the last year crafting a replacement for the 2009 water bond. The original bond, written during the Schwarzenegger administration, ha a big price tag that many said wouldn’t pass a vote.

Since then, it’s been delayed twice amid backers’ fears that recession-weary voters would give it a thumbs down. Its dollars have been cut in half.

The Brown administration has advised the public to prepare for another dry season and the governor has convened a committee of experts to meet weekly and advise him on the need for a statewide drought declaration.

Feinstein and Costa also have asked President Obama for a federal emergency declaration, which Feinstein and Costa have also called for, would expend federal help to repair infrastructure and provide more flexibility to regulatory decision-making.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jim Costa, a farm-belt lawmaker from Fresno, wrote Brown that “we have had two years of dry conditions that have depleted our reservoirs and reduced carryover storage to historically low levels not seen since 1977.” Both urged Brown to declare a state of emergency.

They urged Brown to ensure water conservation, expedite procedures for water transfers and provide detailed and regular water condition status reports.

Feinstein and Costa also have asked President Obama for a federal emergency declaration, which Feinstein and Costa have also called for, would expend federal help to repair infrastructure and provide more flexibility to regulatory decision-making.

“This declaration would send a strong signal that state and federal agencies must provide maximum discretion in decision that could have an impact on water supplies,” the letter to Brown went on to say.

The governor assembled a task force to study the need for a statewide drought declaration. They report the group of staffers from state water, agriculture, and emergency services will meet weekly to reinforce drought preparation and advice Brown’s decision.

Hanak compared a dry season’s impact on California voters to their behavior in 2006 when, on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, they approved a large bond for flood protection.

“That sort of recognition of flood risk was something that helped to pass that bond,” Hanak said. “When we have real water challenges that people can kind of wrap their heads around and can have an image of, then that makes it a more pressing issue for them.”

State lawmakers have been hesitant to put the most recent water bond measure before voters.

“On both of those two fronts I think there is a good possibility that 2014 could be a year where it would be possible to pass a water bond,” Caves said. “The third big issue is the level of opposition, and bonds don’t really have any opposition—at least of any significance.”

Gov. Schwarzenegger assembled the Legislature in 2009 to address the state’s water issues. The result was an authorization to issue about $11 billion in general obligation bonds for a wide range of water projects and programs.

But bond supporters knew that a slowly recovering economy and the need to address budget shortfalls could mean a death sentence for the legislation.

Lawmakers pushed the vote to November 2012 to enhance its chances of passing, but then they pulled the bill again. It seemed like there would never be a good time to vote on the bond, without revising the price tag.

This year, both houses of the Legislature worked to craft a revised version of the measure to make 2014 the year of the water bond.

Joe Caves of the Conservation Strategy Group and the leader of three successful water bonds since 2000, says voters’ attitudes toward the government and economy are now on the up swing so bonds are polling more favorably than before. He also mentioned the growing impression that California is facing water shortages and that a potential drought situation could bolster investments in those areas.

“On both of those two fronts I think there is a good possibility that 2014 could be a year where it would be possible to pass a water bond,” Caves said. “The third big issue is the level of opposition, and bonds don’t really have any opposition—at least of any significance.”

The 2009 water bond was an exception, it received quite a bit of opposition and Caves said that was a major issue.

“Both the Assembly and the Senate have been trying to craft a bond that is substantially a consensus measure, for which there would not be any significant opposition. That’s the third factor and possibly the most critical going into 2014 in determining whether or not it’s possible to pass it.”

This year, Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) authored the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality, and Flood Protection Act of 2014, which she has described as “essentially a do-over” to the old bond rather than a revision. In the Assembly, Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewod) authored the Climate Change Response for Clean and Safe Drinking Water Act of 2014.

Both bills come to a cost of around $6.5 billion. In a September joint legislative hearing Rendon attributed the similar dollar amount of the bills to a recent poll by the PPIC, which found the safe zone cost for voter approval on a bond was somewhere between $5 to $7 billion.

The lawmakers agree both bills are very similar. Wolk pointed out that some key difference with hers is its wide base of support—most notably by the delta counties. She also emphasized the importance of delta conservancy, water storage, and legislative oversight of money.

“All monies that we ask the voters to support—any money measure that goes to the people—has to have strong accountability measures in order to succeed,” Wolk said. The senator also said there isn’t a need for two bills and that the Legislature would put them together next year.

“I’m definitely interested in working with the senator, I’m definitely interested in making sure that one bill moves forward and gets on the governor’s desk,” Rendon said.

The state’s original goal to pass a replacement bill by the end of the 2013 session failed to come to fruition. But lawmakers expect to marry their two proposals next year, and are wise to avoid making additional earmarks on their final product.

“I am concerned about earmarks. I think earmarks are really what caused us to kind of push the bond, to pull it out of the ballot twice,” Rendon said. “I think earmarks would make it especially difficult to get passed voters. “

 


  • http://www.humboldtlib.blogspot.com/ Fred Mangels

    What’s left out here is specifically what the water bond(s) would be used for. We don’t need more ways to send the limited amount of water around the state. We need to increase the amount of water available, whether through conservation or more storage.

    • CommonSense

      Exactly! And as usual, our elected officials wait until we are in a crisis before taking action. They scare the uneducated voters into approving more taxes and monies. Apparently we have a transportation crisis (High Speed Rail) and not a water crisis in this state.

      • http://www.humboldtlib.blogspot.com/ Fred Mangels

        Good point, and that’s something that seems to be left out of the discussion with this water bond: We’ll still be on the hook for tens of billions of dollars more to pay for high speed rail, unless we can stop it.

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  • californucopia

    New water storage is the key to a more reliable water supply. Wolk’s proposal falls short. The original bond had 3 billion for new storage. Work cuts that to one. In today’s California, that doesn’t go very far for building infrastructure. You have to wonder where the other 5 billion in her bill go. More pork?

    • http://www.humboldtlib.blogspot.com/ Fred Mangels

      That’s just it. It might have been helpful for the article to give us some idea one what exactly the money would be spent on.

  • Pingback: Do water woes help 2014 bond? Politicians and Special Interests Hope So

  • Mesf

    Extremely dismissive statement by Mr. Caves of the tens of thousands of people concerned about the destructive boondoggle that would be likely part of a water bond, the Peripheral Tunnels Governor “Super Fluid Extractor” Brown is hawking to suck water from our already overburdened northern rivers to supply fracking in the oversubscribed Central Valley. Infrastructure is important but not the kind that promotes climate change, further marginalizes farmers and harms our commercial and recreational fisheries by draining the habitats necessary for their reproduction.

  • Donald Ferguson

    The problem with this and any other water bond
    is that it will be loaded with pork and will primarily benefit central valley
    corporate farmers while Southland urbanites are expected to pay for it.
    Southern California, with the largest portion of the state’s population will
    receive almost no benefit.

    Almost every day the paper is full of news
    about drought conditions. These stories are designed to soften up the voters
    and predispose them to approve a water bond. I will be voting NO.

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