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Commentary: Proposition 3 enhances investments in water system

Issue Date: September 19, 2018
By Danny Merkley
Danny Merkley
The Proposition 3 water bond on the November ballot builds on earlier investments in California’s water system.
Photo/Christine Souza

Come November, it will have been four years since California made its last meaningful investment to upgrade the state's system to capture and deliver water—and now it's time to take the next step.

On Nov. 6, California voters will have the chance to vote in favor of Proposition 3, the Water Supply and Water Quality Act of 2018. This $8.9 billion citizen's initiative water bond will enhance the down payment made by Proposition 1—overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2014—to upgrade the state's water infrastructure.

By next year, the money from the Proposition 1 bond will be exhausted or committed, including nearly $2.7 billion for new water-storage capacity.

Proposition 3 is supported by a large and diverse coalition, including the California Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural organizations; conservation and environmental justice groups; water agencies; labor, business, local government and elected officials; members of Congress and state legislators.

This broad support results from how this new water bond invests in a comprehensive water plan. Areas of investment include safe drinking water, water-quality improvements, water for fish and wildlife, water conservation, wastewater recycling, desalination, groundwater management, flood management, stormwater capture, water conveyance, watershed protection, the Salton Sea, and Oroville Dam repairs.

The Proposition 3 bond would help to supply clean, safe drinking water for all Californians and improve long-term drought protection.

The bond builds on the investments in the California water system voters made when they approved Proposition 1 four years ago. For example, it would provide:

  • $750 million to restore lost Friant-Kern Canal capacity, groundwater recharge and water-conservation programs.
  • $200 million toward Oroville Dam spillway repairs.
  • $600 million for improvements to stormwater capture and treatment.
  • $750 million for safe drinking water and wastewater treatment in disadvantaged communities.
  • $400 million for recycling wastewater for landscape irrigation and industrial use.
  • $400 million to desalt groundwater for an additional water supply.

Proposition 3 would invest in a variety of water-management efforts, including:

  • $675 million to help implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
  • $300 million for urban water conservation.
  • $50 million to improve agricultural irrigation systems efficiency.
  • $60 million for streamflow data management improvements.
  • $2.4 billion for improved watershed management, including but not limited to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy for post-wildfire watershed restoration.
  • $100 million for improved land management, including removal of invasive weeds to improve surface and groundwater yield.
  • $100 million for Central Valley flood management.
  • $250 million to improve Bay Area water agencies' interconnectivity for drought preparedness.

Proposition 3 would also invest in ecosystem improvements, including:

  • $200 million for wetlands improvements in the San Francisco Bay region.
  • $400 million for fish-habitat restoration.
  • $500 million for water and specific habitat improvements for fisheries.
  • $100 million to complete Central Valley fish screens.
  • $100 million to restore spring run chinook salmon on the San Joaquin River.
  • $280 million for waterfowl-habitat improvements, including Central Valley Project Improvement Act obligations.

CFBF policies support many aspects of the bond measure, including the organization's water-resources development, water rights, water marketing and transfers, groundwater management, wastewater reuse and flood-protection policies.

I have heard concern raised by some about whether California can afford a new water bond. The state's bond rating is steadily improving, and the interest rate is equivalent to a AAA bond rating. There is significant demand for California bonds by the bond market. California devotes less than 5 percent of its General Fund budget to servicing general-obligation bonds. This is well within the prudent limit for bond expenditures, and bonds are almost the only way the state invests in repairing its water infrastructure.

Recent droughts have shined the spotlight on California's outdated and inadequate water system. Proposition 3 allows us to further invest 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 safe drinking water, water recycling, water conservation and watershed improvements.

Greater detailed information about Proposition 3 may be found at: Farm Bureau urges Californians to vote yes on Proposition 3.

(Danny Merkley is director of water resources for the California Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted at

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

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