More water bonds may be put before California voters in 2018

Gerald Meral

SACRAMENTO — Voters in California may see two more water-related bond measures on their ballots next year as proponents try to build on the success of Proposition 1.

Gerald Meral, a former deputy secretary of the state Natural Resources Agency, is about to begin gathering signatures for an $8.9 billion measure for such water-related projects as repairs to the sinking Friant-Kern Canal in Tulare and Kern counties.

Meral told the Capital Press his initiative is “a follow-up” to Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond voters overwhelmingly passed in 2014.

“Those of us who’ve been working on this felt that four years would be a reasonable time to think about another water bond,” Meral said.

By 2018, except for the storage component, all the money will be spent from Prop. 1, he said.

“We pretty much modeled this on Prop. 1,” he said. “It’s very heavy on groundwater (restoration), waste water recycling and water for fish and wildlife.”

Meral’s initiative would appear on the November 2018 ballot. Meanwhile, the Legislature approved a bill by state Senate Leader Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, to place a $3.5 billion bond measure for flood protection, water supply reliability and new parks and open space before voters in June.

“California’s aging infrastructure is in dire need of new investment, from our parks to our dams and reservoirs,” de Leon said in a statement.

If approved by Gov. Jerry Brown, de Leon’s measure would $750 million for flood protection and prevention and $500 million for such projects as safe drinking water and groundwater sustainability.

In all, the measure — Senate Bill 5 — would include 22 percent of the projects addressed in Meral’s initiative, according to an analysis by California Citrus Mutual. The bill does not include funding for the Friant-Kern Canal, and its safe drinking water funding would be less than half as much as in Meral’s proposal, CCM asserts.

Citrus Mutual has not taken a formal position on either initiative, its analysis said.

The proposal comes as the California Water Commission is considering 12 applications for portions of $2.5 billion in Proposition 1 funding for storage projects. The commission expects to make final determinations in June 2018.

The Legislature initially approved a bill in 2009 to put an $11.1 billion water bond before voters, but that measure was delayed twice and then downsized as leaders feared its defeat amid a sluggish economy. Brown and lawmakers agreed to set it at $7.5 billion in 2014.

Meral served in the Natural Resources Agency under Brown before retiring at the end of 2013. He is now director of the water program for the San Francisco-based Natural Heritage Institute, an environmental group that has advocated the governor’s twin tunnels project.

Meral said he believes voters will have an appetite for more water-related bond funds based on their support of Proposition 1, which needed a simple majority but got 67 percent of the vote.

“A lot of it will depend on how the economy is doing,” he said. “But Proposition 1 was a response to drought, and I don’t think people have forgotten about the drought.”

In addition, damage in the U.S. Southeast from hurricanes Harvey and Irma underscores the importance of flood control, he said.

Meral’s initiative — the State Water Supply Infrastructure, Water Storage and Conveyance, Ecosystem and Watershed Protection and Restoration, and Drinking Water Protection Act of 2018 — has been filed with Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office. Meral said his goal is to gather 500,000 signatures.


Information on the initiative can be found on the NHI’s website, .

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