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Revised Water Bond Is the Right Response to California's Drought

Kate Poole

Posted August 12, 2014

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A broad array of stakeholders and interest groups, including NRDC, joined Governor Brown today to call for action on a proposed water bond that is slimmed down, focused on a key set of investments, and far superior to the $11.1 billion bond currently scheduled for the November ballot.  This collaborative meeting between Governor Jerry Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, Legislative water leaders and more than two dozen leaders from conservation,  agricultural, water, environmental justice, labor and business groups was focused on coming together around a revised bond proposal that is the right response to California’s drought.

The revised proposal would provide funds for safe drinking water for disadvantaged communities and invest $1.5 billion in water recycling, stormwater capture, water efficiency, and other local water supply projects (like those detailed in NRDC’s and the Pacific Institute’s “The Untapped Potential of California’s Water Supply” report released earlier this summer).  These projects have the potential to generate significant new water supplies and demand reductions to reduce the vulnerability of communities to drought.  

The proposed bond would allocate as much as $3.4 billion (more than half) in funding for groundwater storage and cleanup projects, one of the biggest challenges facing California. 

It also would fund projects to restore the San Joaquin River, L.A. River, and Salton Sea, as well as improving water supplies for the state’s wildlife refuges and other watershed restoration projects to improve water quality, water supply, and our environment. 

And, today, NRDC reached an agreement with the proposal’s authors regarding the use of bond funds to provide instream flows over and above required minimums.  With this essential, amended language – which our team was deeply committed to and fought hard for – the bond has become neutral on the controversial proposed Bay Delta Conservation Plan.  Now that proposal to build two massive tunnels to transport water out of the Delta has been appropriately separated from critically needed investments in California’s water infrastructure and ecosystems.

This trimmed bond is a significant improvement over the outdated, bloated $11.1 billion bond passed by the Legislature in 2009 and scheduled to be on the ballot this year (absent action by the Legislature).

 We are pleased to see California water leaders come together to craft a sensible water bond and urge the Legislature to support the deal reached today, barring any significant changes. 

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Michael BerndtsonAug 13 2014 10:25 AM

Serious and snark free question. What are the chances of California dividing itself into six states? I believe that issue has been accepted and will be put to referendum this November.

An opinion. The fastest way to turtle or sink environmental protection/remediation funding is to bring up environmental justice or water for disadvantage peoples. Water is water. Pipes are pipes. A well run and morally centered government will supply and service water needs to an entire area, regardless of household's wealth in certain subsets. Bringing up water for poor people sounds patronizing. It may just set off the already uppity libertarians, gun nuts, and anti tax folks to vote yes on divide itself.

One the bright side, this bonding effort may actually cleanup the groundwater laying beneath Silicon Valley. Man, that water was bad. And kind still is to this day. Impacted by badly managed fresh and spent chlorinated solvents for cleaning circuit boards. I believe Google has an office complex in the old Fairchild facility. A facility of yore and a superfund site. Monitoring a groundwater management zone is not the same as cleaning up groundwater. btw, this isn't the water that's going to the poors, is it?

Steve HopcraftAug 13 2014 01:56 PM

Bond is NOT tunnels neutral when it contains a half billion dollars for taxpayers to pay to replace water taken from needed river flows for export through the tunnels
How do you call that tunnels neutral?

Irwin FletcherAug 13 2014 08:14 PM

I wish someone in the bought-off by vested interests CA leg would have the smarts to add a rider to the bond bill that would finally create legal oversight, regulation, and management of groundwater by the State. For as progressive and mostly environmentally-sensitive as this state is compared to most of the Mountain and Desert West, it is simply unconscionable California is the ONLY state to not have any regulation or monitoring of groundwater usage. Cripes, even the neo-con inhabited state of Arizona has relatively good rules, regs, and monitoring of groundwater use.

Dan BrekkeAug 21 2014 04:27 PM

I'm curious how you come up with the figure of $3.4 billion for "$3.4 billion in funding for groundwater storage and cleanup projects." I can't find nearly that much in funds set aside for that exclusive purpose.

Kate PooleAug 21 2014 05:39 PM

Hi Dan,

The $3.4 billion figure comes from totaling the $900 million set aside for groundwater sustainability, with the (then) $2.5 billion in storage funds. That storage pot was subsequently increased in the final bond to $2.7 billion, to raise the total to up to $3.6 billion in funding for groundwater storage and cleanup. Projects that are eligible to compete for that $2.7 billion storage pot include “Groundwater storage projects and groundwater contamination prevention or remediation projects that provide water storage benefits.” (Section 79751(b).) Storage projects will be awarded funds based on their public benefits, and the legislation recognizes that “Investments to expand groundwater storage and reduce and reverse overdraft and water quality impairment of groundwater basins provide extraordinary public benefit and are in the public interest.” (Section 79701(h)). We think this and other cost-effectiveness factors make groundwater storage projects very competitive for the storage funds.


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