Thursday, August 28, 2008

New Water Bond Idea Is All Wet

(previously published in California Progress Report)

The California Legislature’s ongoing debate over a water bond (
ABXX 8, Huffman, Caballero, Wolk) seems to echo discussions going on in houses across California: Should we put big purchases on a credit card and pay them off, or should we be more prudent with our money?

It’s great that our state’s leaders want to take on our state’s water woes, and that the California Assembly has dived into this issue with enthusiasm. But right now, they are talking about spending $10 billion for water – and essentially putting that charge on a “credit card” of more bond-money borrowing. Annual payments on existing borrowing already represent the fourth-largest expenditure in the state’s budget.

Rather than address our problems as a one-time purchase, we need to come up with a steady “stream” of financing that we can use to take on the big, ongoing problems facing our state’s water systems:

- A collapsing Delta capable of delivering an unprecedented shock to the 23 million Californians who drink its water;

- Worsening water quality, as bacteria, trash, pharmaceuticals, plastic byproducts and nitrates poison our rivers and streams;

- Costly, unnecessary dam proposals that would cost billions to build and benefit only a few;

- And a complete failure to regulate groundwater, which plays an increased role in drinking water supplies during droughts.

A one-time water bond won’t do enough to address those problems, and it definitely doesn’t provide a consistent, stable source of funding for water.

We’re not alone in wanting this sustainable funding. Our colleagues with the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, the Planning and Conservation League, California Coastkeeper Alliance, Clean Water Action, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, California Sportsfishing Protection Alliance and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation all agree how important it is to end the spending drought for funds already approved by voters.

Together, we’re asking the California Legislature to rethink its entire approach to funding water policy. We’re also standing up for disadvantaged communities and individuals: those who must fish to feed their families, agricultural workers who can’t drink the water that comes out of their tap. We’re fighting to make sure that these families and workers get a fair share of any bond. Along with our disappearing fish species, they have suffered the most from decades of water policies that rewarded special interests without improving water quality or supplies for these low-income communities.

We have the tools to start making a difference in those communities right now. More than half of the funds from previous bonds already approved by California’s voters, Propositions 84 and 1E, still needs to be appropriated and invested in California’s water resources. As we strategically invest those dollars to clean up dirty aquifers and help low-income Californians, we will have some more time to take a more critical look at our state’s water future.

Right now, the California Legislature has a chance to begin making a real, permanent change to California’s often-shortsighted water policy. It’s time to put down the credit card, and start planning for a sustainable future.

image courtesy DWR

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