23 Oct 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