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Proposition 1: Water Bond Measure Headed For A Big Vote

Jonathan Tolliver |
September 25, 2014 | 4:57 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Jerry Brown (Randy Bayne/Neon Tommy)
Jerry Brown (Randy Bayne/Neon Tommy)

California voters will head to the polls on November 4th to vote on Proposition 1, a measure that would provide $7.5 billion in funding for a variety of water conservation and restoration projects aimed at addressing the state’s dwindling water supply. 

The state is grappling with one of the deepest droughts in its history. Lawmakers are hoping the measure will help better manage California’s existing water sources, while preventing future droughts.

Quick Facts

1. Proposition 1 revolves around water conservation and restoration projects.

2. The proposition is aimed at addressing the state’s dwindling water supply. 

3. Proposition 1 was established through State Assembly Bill 1471.

4. Funding comes from a combination of $7.1 billion in new bonds and $4.2 million in unused bonds.

5. For: Communities may benefit from urban creek restoration, storm water management, and groundwater cleanup.

6. Against: Money could give wealthy businesses ability to use as much water as they want, funded by taxpayers.

Proposition 1 was established through State Assembly Bill 1471. The bill was authored by Lakewood Assemblymember Anthony Rendon. 

Funding for Proposition 1 would come from a combination of $7.1 billion in new bonds and $4.2 million in unused bonds. 

No money has been attached to specific projects. Instead, most projects will be subject to legislative oversight, a provision added to the bill in order to prevent waste. A previous incarnation of the measure was so unpopular that it was removed from the ballot in 2010 and 2012.

This time around, voters are backing the bond. 

A recently conducted Field Poll shows nearly 2-to-1 support among likely voters, though only 36 percent of respondents had heard of Proposition 1 prior to being surveyed.

Asm. Rendon’s Legislative Director Alf Brandt distributed a summary that broadly outlines where the proposed money would be spent. For example, $520 million would be allocated for “disadvantaged communities,” while $725 million would be used on “water recycling.” 

Brandt points out that the money allocated specifically for Los Angeles County could make a significant impact. “There are funding categories that LA County is most interested in.” 

Infographic (Jonathan Tolliver/Neon Tommy)
Infographic (Jonathan Tolliver/Neon Tommy)
He believes urban creek restoration, storm water management, and groundwater cleanup are three areas in which the city will benefit.

Mario Santoyo, director and technical advisor at The California Latino Water Coalition, thinks the bond will be a boon to poorer residents of Los Angeles County. 

“Around California, including southern California, there are communities that are low-income, and have significant access issues to either adequate water supply or adequate water quality,” he explained. Lakewood, Asm. Rendon’s jurisdiction, is one area in the County Santoyo cites as lacking access. 

He believes residents in the Central Valley, however, face the greatest need. He says there have been unsuccessful efforts to get public funding to address what he calls “old and bad” infrastructure.  

The bond measure could change all of that.

“(The bond) now has a substantial amount of money that’s principally targeted and available to those communities.” 

Funding in the Central Valley concerns many groups that oppose Proposition 1. $2.7 billion is allocated for “Statewide Water Storage,” with much of that money going to the construction of new dams and reservoirs in the region. 

Ankur Patel (Jonathan Tolliver/Neon Tommy)
Ankur Patel (Jonathan Tolliver/Neon Tommy)
“California has 1,400 dams already," says Ankur Patel, Proposition 1 organizer at Food and Water Watch.  We don’t need other dams. What good is a dam when it’s not raining? Storage is important, don’t get me wrong. But there are better ways of storage.”

That $2.7 billion could potentially fund two new Central Valley dams, one in Colusa County and one in the Sierra Nevada Northeast of Fresno. This money would be continuously appropriated, meaning it wouldn’t be subject to legislative oversight. 

Patel worries that this money could give wealthy agricultural businesses in the region the ability to “use as much water as they want, subsidized by the taxpayer.” 

He points out that Central Valley agriculture businesses export most of what they grow to other states and countries. He questions the benefits this model has for California residents.

“Sixty to eighty percent of the state’s water goes toward agriculture. This bond does nothing to reign this in.” 

A Farm in the Central Valley (Neon Tommy)
A Farm in the Central Valley (Neon Tommy)
Madelyn Glickfeld, head of the UCLA Water Resources Group, says crops produced in the Central Valley are crucially important to the rest of the country, but she’s not sure farmers there have enough water to continue growing water-intensive crops. Dam funding was included in the Assembly bill to address those farmers’ concerns. 

“There wasn’t going to be a water bond if we hadn’t put the money in for the dams. That was the politics,” said Glickfeld. 

She explained that the Central Valley doesn’t produce much water on its own, and that these dams may ultimately prove ineffective at addressing long-term storage issues. 

Southern California has been able to withstand the drought in part because of an already constructed reservoir, but it will be difficult for either region to recover fully. 

A combination of a lack of rain, high demand from agriculture and a rapidly growing population provide a daunting challenge to lawmakers.  Considering how much it costs, Proposition 1 is an aggressive step toward meeting these challenges.

No one knows if it’s enough.

“We’ve had six of these water bonds since 1986. $15 billion worth,” said Patel. “And clearly, we haven’t solved the water problem.

Contact Staff Reporter Jonathan Tolliver here and here.



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