23 October 2014

A few thoughts on California's Proposition 1

California Proposition 1, the Water Bond (Assembly Bill 1471), is on the November 4, 2014 ballot.

Here are my few thoughts on this $7+ billion bond.*

NB: I am ignoring the (possible and probably likely) existence of federal, state and local laws and financing relating to these topics; the possible conflict among these topics; the probability that some/all of these spending priorities will be blocked by lawsuits; and the typical complexities of implementation. All of these issues are likely to reduce the effectiveness/impact of this bond's promises.
  • $2.7 billion for water storage projects, dams and reservoirs. Waste of money, given that most storage is now empty and the best way to store water (moving forward) is in aquifers
  • $1.495 billion for competitive grants for multibenefit ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration projects. Reasonable idea, in terms of spending on public goods. Tricky to turn "competitive" into "results." Does not make sense in cases where ecosystems have been damaged by urban or agricultural activities. Difficult to justify if the money is going to some regions but not others, as this cross subsidy may not benefit net payers
  • $900 million for competitive grants and loans for projects to prevent or clean up the contamination of groundwater that serves as a source of drinking water. This should be paid by polluters (farmers and industry)
  • $810 million for expenditures on, and competitive grants and loans to, integrated regional water management plan projects. "Plan projects" should be paid by the regions involved
  • $725 million for water recycling and advanced water treatment technology projects. No point in subsidizing industry for development. Water utilities may want to, in exchange for equity or discounts
  • $520 million to improve water quality for “beneficial use,” for reducing and preventing drinking water contaminants, disadvantaged communities, and the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund Small Community Grant Fund. Again, should be paid by polluters. If they are bankrupt (you know, like Westlands), then the State can pay this
  • $395 million for statewide flood management projects and activities. Again, a regional concern. The Dutch tend to subsidize flood projects at the national level, but they are far more united
  • Oh, and I don't see anything here about better governance (e.g., groundwater regulation, markets for water, or increasing prices to improve resource use), which makes me worry that voters may tax themselves $7 billion to get no results. (Governance is both necessary AND sufficient to get results. Money is neither -- just look at the $5 billion+ spent wasted on studying the Delta!)
Bottom Line: The water bond appears to be a desperate plea to throw Other People's Money money at problems users should pay for. Vote No.

* Here are some posts on the 2009-2010 (failed) campaign to spread water pork all over the state: moves ahead, fail [best one], pork pork!, delayed (for now), and some history

13 comments:

  1. I'm all for polluter pays. But, with groundwater the pollution that is apparant (ie has reached wells) is most likely due to (lawfull) practices 50 or more years ago, and has moved away from the land where the practice occured. Perhaps gov't needs to cover that.....?

    If we are to rely on groundwater basins for storage we better be ready to protect its quality...good news additional (clean) recharge can be part of the solution....you get storage for a dusty day, have a mechanizm to actually reverse severe drawdowns, and if done right improve the net water quality over time....a potential "three-fer".

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  2. It's my understanding that the $2.7B for storage projects is not limited to dams and reservoir, but could also include natural storage infrastructure, e.g., aquifers and floodplains. At least that's what the environmental groups are hoping for.

    Also, I disagree that flood management is simply a regional concern. Managing flood risk in the Sacramento and San Joaquin basins requires coordinated efforts by a wide range of federal, state, regional and local agencies. The interconnectedness of the physical system means that flood management actions taken in one region impact flooding in other regions, as well as other water users. Many of the issues and inefficiencies with the current flood management system are in fact derived from the uncoordinated manner, in which the system was initially constructed and operated.

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  3. Please explain what you mean here: Does not make sense in cases where ecosystems have been damaged by urban or agricultural activities.

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  4. @JBD -- Sure, I agree IF the state then OWNS the aquifer and g/w

    @KND -- the original sin was multi-levels of governance. Time to sort that out, and manage the Sac (or SJ) systems at ONE point (e.g., Murray darling Basin Authority in Australia)

    @JR -- I should have added "... which means that ag/urban should pay"

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  5. I'm going to vote no, but from what you said, there are a lot of decent ideas, just the wrong people paying for them. So it is significantly better than the previous proposed bond, right? Your last point is what most concerns me.

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  6. So, I read this as about $5bn to enrich contractors, engineers, and State agencies; and $2bn of giveaways to convince people to vote for it. I'd guess at least $1bn is going to be spent on producing and shuffling vast mounds of paper. Give Jerry credit for thinking big, I guess, but it all looks too much like boondoggle emergence.

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  7. On the other hand: Audubon California, interestingly, is campaigning for a Yes vote on Prop 1. They are clearly counting on blocking any proposed new dams (just as you predict), though it seems to me that $2.7bn will exert a lot of pressure.
    http://ca.audubon.org/prop-1-frequently-asked-questions

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  8. The State does own all the water (ref: 15 July2014 post)

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  9. My friend says...

    I'm voting yes. Here's my counterpoint

    Point 1: "Waste of money, given that most storage is now empty and the best way to store water (moving forward) is in aquifers" Fact - Prop 1 does does not require storage to be above ground or underground. I would expect most storage to be underground in aquifers. Beyond that, because storage is empty is exactly why we need to expand it. The more storage we have, the better we will prepared for dry spells.

    Point 2: "$900 million for competitive grants and loans for projects to prevent or clean up the contamination of groundwater that serves as a source of drinking water. This should be paid by polluters (farmers and industry)" Many polluters have gone up and left. This isn't how superfund or any other pollution remediation measure has worked. Case 1: rocket industry in southern california and perchlorate.

    Point 3: "$810 million for expenditures on, and competitive grants and loans to, integrated regional water management plan projects. "Plan projects" should be paid by the regions involved" The author fails to understand the point of "integrated". Integrated projects should fund projects that are in the states best interest but cross water districts

    Point 4: "$725 million for water recycling and advanced water treatment technology projects. No point in subsidizing industry for development. Water utilities may want to, in exchange for equity or discounts" Water Recycling and advanced treatment is the most reliable source of water available. Why not subsidize something that is positive for the state and reduces the need for water importing communities (i.e. LA) to import from other areas

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  10. @ND (your Civ Engineer friend)

    "because storage is empty, we need to expand it... for dry spells"? That logic implies that a road below capacity (for lack of traffic) needs to be bigger, in case there's more traffic.

    You need more storage when current storage is over-used.

    (2) Yes, that's an important point -- old users have gone bankrupt, etc., but that excuse is part of their STRATEGY for avoiding costs. I'd load the costs on CURRENT ag/industry (as well as their insurers), as most of them are the same people, under different corporate names. It's a scam. Oh, and if ag/industry leaves the state, then great.

    (3) I said regions, not districts. Regions should manage water.

    (4) Why not subsidize something useful? That's a mom and apple pie excuse. Anything "worth doing" does not need to be subsidized. LA can surely afford to manage its own flood/aquifer recharge/wastewater recycling programs without money from NorCal (and v.v.)

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  11. Groundwater storage sounds great to some analysts and environmentalists. It sounds even better to the <1% that control empty GW banks and senior surface water right holders who would like to convert the (relatively) balanced Sacramento Valley aquifer system into a water bank by intentional overdraft and wishful replenishment. Prop 1 does not limit funds for GW storage to appropriate locations like the metropolitan basins, where stormwater should be taken out of concrete channels and spread on percolation fields. Previous water bonds have used taxpayer money to construct massive production wells for Sac Valley senior irrigation districts who are conducting ongoing GW substitution transfer/sales without environmental review. Prop 1 would funnel money into these politically powerful interests; emptying nor-Cal aquifers to create storage space and exporting water through the Delta in an attempt to refill the privately owned Kern Water Bank. No on 1! Jim Brobeck, AquAlliance.net

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  12. @JB -- totally agree. I was talking about using other aquifers (e.g., LA) that have been ignored, polluted, etc.

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  13. Here's my reasons for supporting both Prop 1 and a local open space measure in Silicon Valley: http://www.sanjoseinside.com/.../protect-our-groundwater.../
    I'd love to hear your response.

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