Commentary: A long road brought us to Proposition 1 water bond


Issue Date: October 22, 2014
By Rich Matteis and Danny Merkley
Rich Matteis
Danny Merkley

On Nov. 4, California voters will have the chance to vote in favor of Proposition 1, the water bond measure—and we know many people look forward to that opportunity. It is an opportunity that has been a long time coming and one that resulted from a very long effort managed by committed stakeholders, including Farm Bureau. The road has had many twists and turns, but in the end it has all been very much worth the investment in human and financial resources to bring the bond measure to the ballot.

Scroll backwards, more than seven years ago, when interested parties including Farm Bureau, Western Growers, the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Alliance for Jobs, key legislators and others formed a coalition to take the first steps in bringing a bond measure to voters. The coalition began work on drafting a water bond ballot measure that would, for the first time in many years, finance construction of new water storage and provide support for other water infrastructure projects, while trying to reach a delicate balance among various interests and the various regions of the state. In fact, the coalition drafted five different versions of the bond, so as to be ready for all contingencies that might have prevented reaching consensus.

Eventually, much of the coalition's work was embodied in the $11.14 billion bond measure that was to appear on the November 2010 ballot. That measure was finally approved by the Legislature, by narrow margins in both houses, after many drafting sessions, numerous stakeholder meetings in which Farm Bureau participated and an extensive advocacy effort on the part of those interested in enhancing California's water infrastructure. Farm Bureau's priorities focused on significant new water storage that was continuously appropriated, protection of water rights and keeping the legislation as policy-neutral as possible on related environmental issues—and there was success on all fronts.

As the November 2010 election approached, however, there were signs that the electorate was not yet ready for the measure, and so the Legislature was asked to postpone it. As time passed, it became clear that changes in the bond were necessary to reduce the costs and make it more focused on essential projects and system improvements.

Assembly Water Parks and Wildlife Committee Chairman Anthony Rendon, the author of the new water bond legislation, proved tireless in the effort to gather public input and achieve the balance needed for the bond measure to be successful. As part of this effort, he conducted 18 field hearings, with Farm Bureau and county Farm Bureaus participating in many. Committee Vice Chairman Frank Bigelow was also instrumental, working to make sure the final measure would provide for real opportunities to create new water supply for our very thirsty state. In all, a number of legislative leaders in both houses and both parties came together to approve the bond bill with near-unanimous votes.

Along the way, a second water coalition formed with the support of Farm Bureau, other farm organizations and interests, the Association of California Water Agencies, the California Latino Water Coalition, labor organizations and members of the business community. Clean Water and Jobs for California has conducted outreach and education on an ongoing basis for the past several years and has been instrumental in identifying what Californians desire in a water bond. The coalition has been essential in finally bringing a water bond to voters.

It has taken years of dedicated effort by many inside and outside the Legislature and by Gov. Brown and his team, but now we have our first opportunity in more than 30 years to take a meaningful step forward to provide water for California cities, farms and the environment. Farm Bureau has participated in and initiated hundreds of meetings with the current administration and the previous administration, with legislators and with other stakeholders. Uncounted hours have been spent in analyzing bill language, drafting language related to the bond measure, attending hearings and workshops, providing testimony in committee hearings, discussing the various proposals within the Farm Bureau membership and much more.

On Nov. 4, we all will have a chance to cast a "yes" vote for new water for California, provided by the Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Act of 2014—the first bond in many years that focuses on water supply and reliability.

The $7.5 billion measure has all the components being sought by Farm Bureau, including $2.7 billion in new water storage that is continuously appropriated and therefore not subject to change by future Legislatures or administrations. It also includes $520 million for drinking water cleanup programs for disadvantaged communities. There is funding available for water management at the local level, important financial assistance for counties and water agencies; language protecting area-of-origin water rights was maintained from previous versions of the bond measure.

It is clear that the severity of today's drought is a direct result of California's inadequate water system. Proposition 1 allows us to invest in new storage so that we are better able to accommodate our changing weather patterns, where we receive more precipitation as rain instead of snow. And it will provide funding for regional water reliability, water recycling, water conservation and watershed improvements.

The road has been long, but we are at the destination. Vote YES on Proposition 1.

(Rich Matteis is administrator and Danny Merkley is director of water resources for the California Farm Bureau Federation.)

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