Commentary: Proposition 3 water bond represents important step


Issue Date: October 17, 2018
By Justin Fredrickson
Justin Fredrickson

No doubt you've heard: There's another water bond on the ballot this November—specifically, the $8.9 billion Proposition 3, or the Watershed Infrastructure and Watershed Conservation Bond Initiative of 2018.

If you'd only read the op-eds from opponents in urban newspapers, you'd be at risk of falling prey to a number of false narratives about Proposition 3. Among the most repeated and least true is the charge that Proposition 3 represents a giveaway to Central Valley agriculture.

Certainly, Proposition 3 contains programs important to California farms and ranches of all sizes—large, small and everywhere in between.

One such program provides $640 million to assist with local groundwater sustainability plans and projects to help meet the challenge of implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014.

A second, important program includes $750 million to restore the original groundwater-recharge capacity of a critical piece of water infrastructure, the Friant-Kern Canal along the eastern edge of the San Joaquin Valley.

A third program commits an additional $750 million to another priority issue for California agriculture: providing safe, affordable drinking water to disadvantaged communities in remote, rural, infrastructure-challenged areas.

But that's not all there is in Proposition 3.

Indeed, it's no accident that numerous, solution-oriented conservation groups strongly endorse this bond, along with representatives of agriculture and business, flood-control districts and water districts throughout the state. Conservation groups supporting Proposition 3 include the Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Planning and Conservation League, Sustainable Conservation, California Trout, Natural Heritage Institute, Ducks Unlimited, California Waterfowl Association and Save the Bay.

That's because Proposition 3 includes funding for conservancies, recycling, water conservation, stormwater capture, fish, waterfowl, Salton Sea restoration and forest management.

Farm organizations that advocate for the bond recognize that agriculture must support achievable, win-win solutions to environmental and social problems—and Proposition 3 offers a vehicle to do so.

That brings me to a couple of different concerns one sometimes hears about the bond.

First, there's the concern that bonds and more borrowing are just not the way to go.

While it's true that projects such as high-speed rail have left a real sour taste in voters' mouths, in the water world, the reality is that bonds are an essential part of the way California funds infrastructure projects.

Long gone are the days when federal and state governments would front today's equivalent of billions to finance large-scale water infrastructure. Yet the massive backlog of needed upgrades, compared to the sheer scale of societal benefits and statewide importance of our existing system, makes clear that investment in reliable water for our economy is a shared responsibility of vital interest to all Californians.

That's where public investment in water designed to leverage, stimulate and empower matching investment at the local level not only makes good sense, but has in fact become an indispensable component of water infrastructure investment in the present era.

Second, there's the concern about how some past bonds have been represented.

Contrary to the assertions of some, Proposition 3 is not a mere repetition of the parks- and urban-community-heavy $4 billion Proposition 68 bond, which passed last spring with very little in terms of actual water supply enhancement.

Proposition 3 will build on investments made in the Proposition 1 bond of 2014, which, despite a lengthy process, did finally allocate $2.7 billion to water storage projects around the state and billions more for other water priorities. Proposition 3 will allocate funding to priority projects and purposes in a predictable and straightforward manner.

At the end of the day, it's for you to decide: Is it fair or right to view this next, important step toward responsible investment in our water future as something it's not? Or should we instead take the pragmatic view that Proposition 3 is a vehicle, and that—whatever your feelings about bonds or California's initiative process—addressing water problems is just too important to assume it's going to somehow take care of itself?

All else being equal, I would only offer this: Water take care of itself? None too likely!

Farm Bureau encourages you to vote yes on Proposition 3.

(Justin Fredrickson is environmental policy analyst for the California Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted at jef@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.