California voters consider $9 billion for water projects

In this Feb. 28, 2017, file photo, water flows down the Oroville Dam's crippled spillway in Oroville, Calif. Voters will decide whether California borrows nearly $9 billion for water infrastructure projects in the state where its scarcity often pits city dwellers, farmers, anglers and environmentalists against one another. Proposition 3 on the ballot Tuesday, Nov. 6, would direct the money to storage and dam repairs, watershed and fisheries improvements, and habitat protection and restoration.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Voters will decide Tuesday whether California borrows nearly $9 billion for water infrastructure projects in the state where its scarcity often pits city dwellers, farmers, anglers and environmentalists against one another.

Proposition 3 would devote the money to storage and dam repairs, watershed and fisheries improvements, and habitat protection and restoration.

It is the largest water bond proposed since California’s nonpartisan legislative analyst began keeping track in 1970.

About a third of the money would be spent on safe drinking water and water quality projects while nearly another third is earmarked for watershed and fisheries improvements.

Most of the rest would be devoted to habitat protection, improved water delivery and groundwater protection and storage.

Less than $500 million is tagged for surface water storage and dam repairs, including $200 million to help repair the Oroville Dam in Butte County, where damaged spillways last year caused the precautionary evacuation of nearly 200,000 people living downstream.

The measure is backed by agricultural and water associations and those devoted to conserving wetlands, fish and wildlife. Together, they contributed more than $5 million to the campaign by mid-October.

Sierra Club California and the League of Women Voters of California are among opponents who say the measure benefits special interests while siphoning money from other programs with little oversight. However, no significant money has been spent in opposition.

With the payback cost estimated at $430 million a year for 40 years, the Legislative Analyst’s Office puts the total cost to state taxpayers at $17.3 billion, or about double the underlying benefit.

Local governments are projected to save about $200 million annually for water-related projects, with some matching funds required and preference given to disadvantaged communities.

Voters have approved nearly $35 billion since 1970 for water and environmental projects, including $4 billion from a ballot measure passed in June.

About a third of all funding remains unspent.

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