Proposed California ballot measure funds water storage projects

A proposed California ballot measure funds water storage projects to address the state’s immediate water supply needs. The proposed Reallocation of Bond Authority to Water Storage Initiative also prioritizes water uses in California by putting people and growing food first in the California Constitution.

For 25 years, politicians, bureaucrats, special interests and the courts have made other uses of water more important than domestic and irrigation uses. In addition, government agency and court interpretations of beneficial use, public use and the public trust have thwarted the development of new surface water and groundwater storage projects.

This ballot measure establishes in the California Constitution — above the reach of politicians, bureaucrats, special interests or judges — that the priorities of water use are: domestic use first, and irrigation use second. Only the people can change these priorities.

California is suffering from infrastructure investment priorities that benefit only special interests. Proposition 1 (2014) appropriates $2.7 billion in bonds to the California Water Commission to fund water storage projects, half of which goes toward environmental purposes.

The Commission spends the bond funding in accordance with the environmental priorities provided by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and by the State Water Resources Control Board. For example, much of the capacity of the proposed Temperance Flat Reservoir would be reserved to provide water to restore salmon runs, and would yield little in terms of water supply.

California’s proposed high-speed rail system now costs more than twice the original $33 billion estimate given in Proposition 1A (2008), and is no longer a true high-speed rail project. The project has been modified to use a “blended” design, which would use slower, existing commuter tracks in some urban areas.

Fifty-three percent of Californians would vote for a ballot measure ending high-speed rail and using the unspent money on water-storage projects, according to a January 2016 Hoover Institution Golden State Poll.

This ballot measure reprioritizes California’s infrastructure investments to benefit people rather than special interests. The measure reallocates $10.7 billion in unused bond authority — $8.0 billion from existing Proposition 1A high-speed rail bonds and $2.7 billion from Proposition 1 water storage bonds — to fund surface water and groundwater storage facilities.

No new tax burdens on taxpayers or additional debt obligations on the state are created by this measure.

This measure establishes a new State Water and Groundwater Storage Facilities Authority to choose the projects to be funded by the reallocated bonds in accordance with the priorities of the measure, putting project selection and operating decisions in the hands of elected regional water experts representing the entire state, instead of in the hands of political appointees with agendas contrary to what the People want.

This measure funds the 50 percent state portion of water storage projects, including: Sites Reservoir, Temperance Flat Reservoir, expansion of San Luis Reservoir and of Shasta Lake, and construction and modernization of groundwater storage facilities. By adding 5 million acre-feet of storage capacity, all water users benefit — families, farms and the environment.

Even though El Niño is bringing more precipitation, the water cannot be captured and is being released from reservoirs because of government regulations for fish, causing the water to flow into the ocean. Presently, 65 to 75 percent of the water flowing through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta runs into the ocean, and only 27 percent is diverted to water users to the south. More water storage capacity is needed.

Information, including signature petitions and the text of the Initiative, is available from California Water Alliance, the sponsor of the initiative, online at: or by calling (866) 875-2533.

This is an opportunity for We the People to set the priorities for water use and for infrastructure projects in California so that people come first, thereby restoring certainty and reliability to our water supply.

Bruce Colbert, AICP, is executive director of the Property Owners Association of Riverside County, Calif. The association is a nonprofit, public policy research, lobbying and educational organization formed in 1983.

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