2014 Water Bond Update

Fifteen years ago, when 20 Sierra-based organizations — including Sierra Business Council — started working to create a Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the primary reason was that our region, the source of 60% of California’s developed water supply, received only about two percent of resource bond funding.

Chilnualna Falls Yosemite BC 2Ten years after the signing of the Conservancy bill, we have a state agency, but the promise of increasing funding for upper watershed management, forest management, land conservation, and restoration activities has only been partially successful.

Water is in the forefront of everyone’s mind today, with competing California drought bills in the US Senate and House of Representatives, the clear link between forest management and water supply highlighted by the recent Rim Fire, and numerous competing state water bonds vying for a spot on California’s November general election ballot.

The Senate’s Natural Resources and Water Committee voted 6-0 last Tuesday to approve SB 848, a $6.895 billion water bond by Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) to begin immediately meeting urgent water needs throughout California.

Senate Bill 848, also known as “The Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality & Water Supply Act,” is the first of the competing water bond bills to be heard and passed by committee. It would replace the $11.14 billion water bond currently slated for the November 2014 state ballot.

Sierra Business Council was proud to support this legislation, but with certain caveats.  Many of those caveats have not yet been met.

SB 848 provides funding for a wide range of projects that will address statewide water needs, including water supply reliability throughout the state, water treatment for communities without safe drinking water, groundwater clean up and conservation measures. We are happy to support these measures because they are necessary.

But SB 848 fails to meet the core needs of the Sierra Nevada region, the source of much of the state’s developed water supply. Funding for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, for example, is only $65 million, which is woefully inadequate.  This amount still represents less than one percent of the overall bond investment for an area that provides 60% of the water.

Sierra Business Council has proposed a broader range of funding to support important watershed protection and enhancement work for the region, including $125 million for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy; a $500 million upper watershed and forest management fund that could be used across the state to begin addressing the link between managing forests and securing water supplies, $100 million for getting mercury out of our water and food chain, and a $44 million fund for a “Mountain Counties” overlay that could be used for water infrastructure planning and development in the region.

We know that this level of investment is tough medicine in a state recovering from a historic recession pressed with many needs. The reality, though, is that water in California is a whole system: from the upper watersheds and forests that capture and store the vast majority of our water supply in snowpack, to our reservoirs, canals, and pumps that move water to where it is needed (whether to your home or business or the growers who supply much of your food) and through the system to groundwater, recycling or for environmental purposes.

Investing in one part of the system without stewarding the most import part, the upper watershed and forest source areas, is short-sighted and, in the long run, economically inefficient.

Sierra Business Council will continue to press our case in Sacramento, and attempt to get the many interests concerned about water supply and quality to see the big picture. We see that as a critical role Sierra Business Council can play, and we will increasingly be reaching out for the help of our network members to rationally and calmly make the case for increased investment in the Sierra Nevada.

For more information about our Sierra Water Initiative please contact Ms. Kerri Timmer at ktimmer@sierrabusiness.org.