28 Jun 2010

2010 Water Bond

By Damian:

In 1960, voters approved $1.75 billion in bonds to build the State Water Project, a figure unsurpassed (despite inflation) until 2000. In 2000, voters approved Proposition 13 (Safe Drinking Water, Clean Water, Watershed Protection, and Flood Protection Bond Act) for $1.97 billion. Critics said the following:
Let's not forget Proposition 204. Voters approved $995 million in bonds in November 1996 for the "Safe, Clean, Reliable Water Supply Act." Where did this money go? We were warned about a water crisis then. If they haven't been able to fix the problem with almost a billion dollars, why give them almost $2 billion more?
Proponents were scared to ask for a billion dollars back in '96. How things have changed...

Then, in 2002, voters passed Proposition 40 (The California Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks, and Coastal Protection Act of 2002) for $2.6 billion. Critics said the following:
California is facing huge budget deficits which will result in cuts in services, tax hikes, or both. Now is not the time to go another $2,600,000,000 into debt. The voters already approved $4,000,000,000 in bonds for water and parks in 2000. We must prioritize our spending in these uncertain times.
In 2002 voters also passed Proposition 50 (Water Quality, Supply and Safe Drinking Water Projects. Coastal Wetlands Purchase and Protection) for $3.44 billion. In 2006, Proposition 84 (The Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006) passed for $5.4 billion.

Five bond measures in recent memory, not including Prop 1E a couple years ago which paid for flood projects. I started writing this post assuming I'd talk about the previous water bond, and each time I looked there was another right behind it. Now, this fall, Californians can vote on an $11.1 billion water bond.

Why so many water bonds? Are we really in dire need of more projects, or is something else happening? I am worried that these measures are funding a large number of projects which otherwise would be built with local money. Therefore, without passage of the bond, the most important projects will get local funding, and the rest will be relegated to the scrap heap. Which is exactly what should happen.

David understands this too and talked about the problems associated with passing statewide bonds. I also want to point out a specific example of previous bond spending.

In 2000, Kern County Water Agency received $23 million in Prop 13 funds, spending $10 million to buy Jim Nickel's Hacienda Kern RIver water right and his associated 20% storage space in Lake Isabella. Nickel is the heir to lower Kern River riparian rights-holder Henry Miller of Miller and Lux. Nickel also receives annually 10,000 acre-feet of KCWA water (usually SWP water) which he freely markets. The goal was to keep Kern River water inside Kern county, according to KCWA, but considering that transferring pre-1914 water rights out of basin is very difficult, and that if the water does indeed leave the county, it goes to some other needy Californian, why should all Californians pay for this transaction? I think the Agency also used additional funds to build a nice parkway along the river for Bakersfield walkers/bikers.

Bottom Line: If this bond passes, the only guarantee is that some local agencies will be happier. The state as a whole will be less wealthy, however, using up valuable resources to buy less valuable water projects.