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President's message: Water bond’s clear message: It is time to expand state’s water storage

Issue Date: August 26, 2015
Paul Wenger

A very important thing happened last Nov. 4. On Election Day, the people of California clearly stated they wanted to invest in water infrastructure.

The specifics of the legislation that put Proposition 1 on the ballot were argued and negotiated by both Democrats and Republicans in the Assembly and Senate until the very last second on Aug. 13, 2014, then rushed to Gov. Brown for his signature, so it could be assured its place in the November election. While few of those involved in the discussions and even fewer voters knew every detail of the $7.12 billion bond, what was extremely clear was the strong message from the electorate that California needed to improve and expand its water infrastructure, something we have not done in any comprehensive way in 35 years. During that time, our state's population grew by 65 percent—more than 15 million people.

The results of the November election hadn't even been certified as official before the posturing got well underway. Environmental groups claimed the bond didn't allow for "big" storage projects, which they disdain, whereas farmers, cities and businesses believed it would speed the way for new water infrastructure—a couple of big storage projects included. It remains to be seen how it all plays out in the end, but one thing is for sure: We needed the water bond to pass—and pass it did.

In 2008, California voters passed another Proposition 1, Proposition 1A to be exact, the High Speed Rail Act. The 2008 election coincided with the height of a pretty good run for our economy and California voters felt generous, passing Proposition 1A with 52.7 percent of the vote. With the economic downturn that followed on the heels of the 2008 election—extending to this very day—polls indicate Californians have changed their minds and do not support the current development of high-speed rail. But even though they seemed to have soured on high-speed rail, voters were still willing to invest in water infrastructure last fall—passing the Proposition 1 water bond with a resounding 67 percent of voters saying "yes."

The Proposition 1 water bond charges the California Water Commission with conducting workshops to determine the metrics for distributing the $2.7 billion the bond directed toward water-storage projects. Funds from the bond are to be contributed toward the "public benefit" portion of a project, up to a maximum of 50 percent of the total project cost.

The Water Commission has been holding a series of workshops, to hear public input on how the water-storage money will be apportioned. It's a big undertaking, with a lot of diverse interests weighing in on the priorities the commission should establish. We've been covering the process in Ag Alert®, and Farm Bureau members and staff have been participating.

Some Farm Bureau members have expressed disappointment in the process and the lack of expeditious action toward getting something done as soon as possible. The letter to the editor in this edition from Vaudine Cullins mirrors comments we've received from members who have attended the commission workshops. The apparent lack of resolve to move forward with storage sooner rather than later can be disappointing and discouraging.

However, that is where organizations such as Farm Bureau must exercise their influence and grassroots power. At the county and state levels, our staff and volunteer leaders will continue to press for moving forward with carrying out the will of the people who voted overwhelmingly for water infrastructure and supply improvements.

We have embarked upon a marathon of public debate and action. As the proverb so eloquently states, the race is not to the fleet nor the battle to the strong, but to he who endures to the end. We cannot become complacent or disillusioned. We must build upon our resolve to see that the future is not one of doing without, because we failed to do all we can to change the public discourse regarding water—the lifeblood of our farms, ranches, cities and environment.

The disposition of funds from Proposition 1, and the new water storage those funds will create, will definitely be part of a long-term solution to California's water woes. In the immediate term and the near future, we must press our elected leaders and those in influential positions to better manage our current water infrastructure and supply.

At some levels, our government has become myopic in its concern for what the "environment" used to be and, by using that single focus, has abdicated its responsibilities to assure the basic needs of our state's residents: water for personal needs, for food and jobs as well as the environment.

Farm Bureau will continue to press for improved water management and new water storage. It is imperative that we not become discouraged or resigned to accept what others would put upon us, because we failed to show up to a meeting, write a legislator or stay engaged in this worthy endeavor.

We will endure. The future of our children and grandchildren depends upon it.

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

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