California has a long history of squandering its precious water.
In 2014, California voters approved $7.12 billion in bonds for state water supply infrastructure projects. Of that, $2.7 billion was designated for water storage projects. But nearly 8 years later, there are no new dams or reservoirs, or other water storage projects to collect and store California’s winter runoff. And California is in yet another drought.
The state officials in charge bow to environmentalists by allowing half of the state’s water to flow out to the ocean, leaving farmers and local governments to fight for the other 50%. The state uses about 47.5 percent of its developed water supply for the environment, including wild river flows, managed wetlands and wildlife preserves, habitat and water quality control for fish, and required Delta outflows, according to the Department of Water Resources. Water is diverted in times of drought and times of plenty to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, leaving much less for irrigation or for Californians to drink.
Approximately 10% of the remaining water is used by cities, and 40% is used by agriculture. Yet it is always urban use and agriculture forced to conserve.
This is why the Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022 was written and has begun to qualify as a state ballot proposition. “More Water Now,” as it is known, will be a nonpartisan initiative constitutional amendment.
When approved by voters, this initiative will accomplish the following objectives:
• Allocate two percent of the state’s general fund to use for projects that increase California’s annual supply of water to farms and cities.
• Permit up to half of the 2% allocation to pay principal and interest on construction bonds.
• Give priority to underfunded projects already approved by voters in Prop. 1 (2014).
• Prioritize projects to deliver abundant and affordable water to underserved communities.
• Funding does not expire until the supply capacity of new projects provides five million acre feet of new water per year for California’s farms and cities.
• Funding for conservation achieving up to one million acre feet per year of water saved.
• Allocate funds based on an all-of-the-above strategy, allowing Californians to repair and upgrade aqueducts, dams, water treatment plants, build off-stream reservoirs, expand existing reservoirs, invest in wastewater reuse and desalination plants, runoff capture, and aquifer recharge and recovery.
• Streamlines CEQA and the Coastal Act. Redefines “beneficial use” to include cities and farms.
• Provides funding for legal defense of projects approved by the California Water Commission and other water agencies against frivolous lawsuits designed to delay the completion of projects.
• Includes funding for R&D of new technologies to deliver safe and affordable water.
California needs all of the above. Yet once again, because the Legislature, Governor and unelected state water board officials are not doing what is best for the people, the people will have to do what is necessary and vote on an initiative enshrining water use in the State Constitution.
Recently the San Jose Mercury News editorial board published a scathing editorial denouncing the initiative, and claiming it is “a water grab” to benefit “Big ag” and Central Valley Republicans.
“Say this for Central Valley Republicans and Big Ag backers: When it comes to proposing water projects that benefit Central Valley farmers at the expense of urban users and the state’s fragile environment, they are as persistent as an annoying, leaky faucet,” the editorial board said.
The More Water Now proponents are not just “Big ag” or Republicans, because everyone in California needs water. And notably, “Big ag” producers grow food, which everyone eats.
“The initiative is supported by a bipartisan and growing coalition of Democrats and Republicans, water agencies, cities, counties, business associations, community groups, construction workers, homebuilders and environmentalists that need the state to invest in water supply projects,” More Water Now explained in a rebuttal.
Perhaps the SJMN editorial board forgot that Proposition 1, the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014, authorized the $7.12 billion in general obligation bonds for state water supply infrastructure projects: public water system improvements, surface and groundwater storage, drinking water protection, water recycling and advanced water treatment technology, water supply management and conveyance, wastewater treatment, drought relief, emergency water supplies, and ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration.
The problem is that of the $7.12 billion, $2.7 billion dollars was specifically designated for new water storage projects, but thus far, hasn’t been used. As the California Department of Water Resources bond oversight shows, no water storage has been added, but ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration projects have been completed.
Since year 2000, California voters have approved eight water bonds totaling more than $30 billion, according the the Legislative Analyst’s Office. But the state bureaucrats empowered to get these projects built have to deal with endless litigation and constantly changing permitting requirements from dozens of local, state and federal agencies. Instead, the “successful bureaucrats keep their jobs by conditioning people to think it’s supposed to take 30-40 years to build a reservoir, or repair an aqueduct,” one water expert told the Globe. “They’re dead wrong. But they’re in charge.”
The SJMN editorial claims that more water for farmers “comes at the expense of urban users and the state’s fragile environment.” But the Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced last Wednesday that the initial 2022 State Water Project (SWP) will be at 0% for the first time in state history due to the ongoing drought.
“More water projects mean more water available for wetlands, more water available for the Delta ecosystems, and more opportunities to manage chronic droughts and climate change,” More Water Now says. “And, to state what ought to be obvious, more water projects also means less imported food, and more affordable food.”
Perhaps most importantly in the rebuttal is this:
“Have the Mercury editors actually read The Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022?
- Do they understand that it would fund upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, so water currently imported from Northern rivers could be reused instead of being dumped, with too much nitrogen and excessive salinity, back into the San Francisco and Santa Monica bays?
- Do they understand how much more water will be left in the rivers, once these urban reuse projects are built? Are they aware of the provisions that fund replacement of the toxic pipes in Los Angeles public schools and elsewhere, or upgrade water treatment plants in underserved communities, or fund conservation projects to reduce use by another 1.0 million acre feet per year?
- Do they understand that by funding off stream reservoirs to capture surplus water during storms, there’s more water not only for farmers and cities but also to maintain riparian ecosystems?”
State Sen. Jim Nielsen told the Globe in August he was deeply involved in the 2014 water bond package. “We can’t share scarcity,” he said. “I worked so hard to get people to understand ‘water is critical for for our future, and we did not have enough,’” Nielsen said. “The Delta is only part of California’s water. I told them that East, West, North and South of the Delta also had water issues and scarcity. Even coastal legislators recognize this now.”
In April, California Gov. Gavin Newsom held a press event in Oroville, with a 60% empty Oroville Dam Reservoir as his backdrop, and said he was not ready to declare an official drought emergency – despite that the previous two weeks 91% of Delta inflow went to the sea, state pumps were at -97%, federal pumps at -85%, and outflows showed 6,060,828,600 gallons. Since April, Oroville has been drained almost dry, the Globe recently reported.
People forget the winter of 2019 brought 200 percent of average rains and snow pack. The state’s reservoirs held enough water for 5 to 7 years. Yet the state still held back on water to farmers, and residents faced rationing, the Globe reported May 2019, proving that water in California is a political football.
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