In this era of extreme polarization, I guess it’s no surprise that there are conflicts over Proposition 3, the water bond on the November 6th statewide ballot. I am disappointed, though, at the level of misunderstanding, misinformation, and misanthropy (against proponents) underlying the opposition.
California’s water system is a mess. Old infrastructure is breaking; historic patterns of rain and snow are changing; long-held beliefs about how to deal with problems aren’t up to the task; and state agencies have project needs that aren’t being met.
Based on assessments by groups around the state (see this PPIC report as just one example), it will take hundreds of billions in investment over time to right this ship. Proposition 3 extends the down payment on that bill by creating a more robust conduit of funding for state priorities around water quality, wastewater, flooding, habitat improvements, wildfire, fisheries, open space, and community sustainability.
I’ve heard the complaints about Proposition 3, and I don’t buy them. Here’s what I know, based on my personal experience and engagement in this effort. Proposition 3:
Fixes infrastructure that serves the state: yes, there is money in the bond to help fix the Friant-Kern Canal and the Oroville dam, just like state funds have been used to build wastewater recycling plants or clean up polluted groundwater basins in different parts of the state. Oroville dam not only provides water to its contractors, but it provides flood control – the original impetus for building the dam.
I live in a community that took in many of the 180,000+ evacuees from below the dam in February 2017 when failure of the spillway seemed imminent. I’d say fixing this crumbling infrastructure most definitely benefits state interests. Similarly, the water that flows through the Friant-Kern canal supports local agricultural communities and jobs, as well as providing for the needs of residents downstream. These two facilities are critical to the state’s water system, economy, and agricultural output; so ensuring they function properly and don’t threaten residents, businesses, and downstream communities is certainly of benefit to the entire state.
Prohibits spending on twin tunnels or dams: this measure will not be used to construct the “twin tunnels” or new dams. Sections 86164 and 86171(d) state that no funds from “this Division” – meaning the entire bond measure – “shall be expended to pay the costs of… Delta water conveyance facilities.” Language in the Findings and Declarations section (Chapter 2, Section 86001(r)) expressly prohibits use of Prop. 3 funds for the construction of specific storage projects. Other sections prohibit appropriated funds from being used to build new surface storage or raise existing dams.
More fully funds state priorities: Prop. 3 is designed to implement priorities outlined in the California Water Action Plan. So although it is a citizen initiative and wasn’t developed by the Legislature, it is based on priorities outlined by the Governor and his Administration for strengthening California’s watersheds and stabilizing the built water system. As a side note, water and parks bonds have been passed via citizen initiative many times, with broad support (eg. Prop 50 in 2002 and more recently Prop. 84 in 2006). If people don’t like citizen initiatives, that’s a different issue.
Reflects input from a wide range of stakeholders: Prop. 3 drafters consulted statewide and regional groups, like Sierra Business Council and others, throughout the process. We did not have to pay to participate on the Steering Committee, nor was there any particular fundraising mandate tied to our participation. Have we worked to raise funds to get this measure passed? You bet we have, because it helps our region and it helps the rest of the state. Are others doing the same? Yes they are. I don’t know when it started being viewed as nefarious to put money and volunteer time behind a measure that helps your region and its constituents.
Provides public benefit, with oversight: funds from Prop. 3 do not go to “interests,” they go to state agencies that are a.) charged with addressing critical statewide priorities such as upper watershed health, habitat restoration, groundwater management and others, b.) accountable to their parent agencies, the Legislature, and the Governor, c.) required to report on expenditures, projects, and outcomes, and d.) subject to audit by the Department of Finance, the Controller, or the California State Auditor at the direction of the Legislature (see Chapter 4, Accountability).
Addresses disadvantaged communities and economically distressed areas: Prop. 3 takes three approaches to helping underserved communities:
1) it dedicates funds to these communities,
2) it waives matching fund requirements in certain sections,
3) it grants these communities priority in funding.
For this reason, many environmental justice organizations support Prop. 3.
I can only speak for myself and my organization, whose mission is, in part, to secure investment for the communities of the Sierra. This year, for the first time, our region is being taken seriously and is included in Prop. 3 NOT because we coughed up a bunch of money to be included, but because of the region’s importance to the rest of the state – as California’s biggest reservoir and the place where 60% of the state’s water comes from. SBC and others have been advocating for years for more state investment in the Sierra, and we have it in Proposition 3. Now it’s up to us to fight for it. If we don’t show up in November, it will be even harder to make the case for Sierra investment in the future. That’s an unacceptable outcome for us.
For the sake of your food, your water, and your community, please vote #YesonProp3 on November 6.
Oroville Dam photo courtesy Sacramento Bee/Associated Press