California Water Bond

California is home to some of the brightest people on the planet with world renowned research universities and the founding giants of the high tech and biotech industries. Yet we can't build consensus on how to preserve and convey our most precious resource, water.

Although California is currently in drought, our water crisis has been percolating for decades.  There have been many attempts to find a solution, but so far, it has eluded us.  In 1960 the State Water Project (SWP) was established by a ballot initiative.  The measure authorized funds to design and build water storage facilities for 25 million Californians and 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland.

Now 38 million people call California home and that number is expected to climb to 50 million by 2030. Our current water storage capacity is inadequate and simply asking residents to conserve water on the honor system will not have an impact.

The rub is two-thirds of our rain falls in northern California, but two-thirds of the population is in southern half of the state. This is the cause of north-south friction in the legislature and it has adversely affected agriculture and will soon impact all of us.

Since the development of the State Water Project, water measures have found their way to voters through a few different propositions.

In 1996 voters approved the allocation of a nine hundred ninety-five million dollar bond issue to provide funds to ensure safe drinking water, increase water supplies, clean up pollution in rivers, streams, lakes, bays, and coastal areas, protect life and property from flooding, and protect fish and wildlife.

A few years later, the legislature felt more could be done to ensure quality drinking water so they asked voters to authorize the state to sell $1.97 billion in general obligation bonds to support safe drinking, water quality, flood protection and water reliability projects throughout California through Proposition 13 (2000). $250 million was dedicated to implementing the CALFED Bay-Delta plan that was designed to improve the quality of bay-delta water.

Proposition 50 (2002) was approved to give $340 million in general obligation bonds to fund the CALFED Bay-Delta Program projects, grants and loans to reduce Colorado River water use, protecting and restoring coastal wetlands, improved security for state, local and regional water systems, grants for desalination and drinking water disinfection.

In 2006 voters adopted two water bond measures, Proposition 1E and 84.

Proposition 1E approved the State of California to sell $4.09 billion in general obligation bonds for flood management programs such as the State Central Valley

Flood Control System and Delta Levees. Proposition 84 supplied an additional $800 million for flood control projects.

Unfortunately, none of these propositions provided any new water storage capacity.

Governor Jerry Brown has rallied behind the $15 billion plan to build two 30-mile water tunnels under an environmentally sensitive river delta east of San Francisco Bay, also known as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Environmentalists have stirred up much opposition to the Bay Delta Tunnel because of the possibility that it will disrupt endangered species. Since at least 1982, the legislature has debated how best to convey water through the delta.  Although more details are needed, I am supportive of the governor's concept.

However, we need to do more.  This November, voters might have the opportunity to approve a new water bond.  The current proposal would allocate $11.14 billion for California's water infrastructure and for programs that address ecosystem preservation. Still, the cost is excessive and there is a lot of pork in the measure that has nothing to do with water storage.

The 2014 water bond includes funds for drought relief, water supply reliability, delta sustainability, California Water Commission, conservation and watershed protection, ground water protection, and water recycling.

The majority party is discussing re-writing the water bond for this November's election.  I support a slimmed down water bond, but it must also have money allocated to building storage capacity.  We would not be in the dire circumstances that we are in today, if an earlier legislature had approved a responsible water bond.

The legislature can do more to help farmers and residents get the water they need to thrive. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find a common sense solution to California's water crisis.