In California, Prop. 3 Is a Billion-Dollar Fix for Stubborn Water Woes

The $8.9 billion bond measure on the November ballot would solve groundwater contamination in disadvantaged communities, restore wetlands, protect the Salton Sea and much more, says the measure’s author, Jerry Meral.

Written by Jerry Meral Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
Cristobal Chavez stands beside bottled water, the only safe drinking water he and his family had after discovering that the well on their property near Porterville in California’s Central Valley is contaminated with nitrates. Proposition 3 on the state’s November ballot would provide millions in bond funds for safe drinking water projects.Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP

In 2012, the California Legislature passed a law stating that it is a human right to have safe drinking water. But it provided only meager funds for that purpose. Proposition 3, a water bond on the November ballot, includes $750 million for safe drinking water and safe wastewater disposal in disadvantaged communities, and to eliminate lead from water fountains in schools.

This is just one of many things Proposition 3 would accomplish by issuing $8.9 billion in general obligation bonds to fund water projects in the state.

Proposition 3 funds progressive water supply programs such as urban and agricultural water conservation, recycling of wastewater for industrial and landscaping use, desalting of inland saline groundwater, stormwater capture, repair of flood control dams, and improved watershed management.

Floods threaten the lives and property of many Californians. Proposition 3 funds flood control projects.

Through programs that reduce fire danger and restore fire-damaged watersheds, Proposition 3 will save lives and homes, and improve the quality of watersheds.

Proposition 3 will provide water supplies in dry years, since climate change is making drought a permanent part of life in California.

Proposition 3 restores damaged watersheds. University of California water quality scientists discovered that fire, drought, beetle infestations and past poor logging and mining practices have damaged the watersheds that we rely on for most of our water supply. Prop. 3 includes major funding for watershed restoration, which will increase the quality and quantity of water we can capture and use.

Capture and reuse of stormwater is funded by Proposition 3, reducing pollution and increasing our water supply.

A few specific and critically important projects are included in Proposition 3, including:

  • Funding for restoration of San Francisco Bay wetlands to provide wildlife habitat and flood protection for homes and businesses near the Bay shoreline.
  • Removal of Matilija Dam, one of the most unsafe dams in California, which is filled with silt, choking the sand supply for Ventura County beaches and blocking an important steelhead run.
  • Restoration of the Salton Sea to protect Southern California residents from the dangerous effects of blowing dust from the exposed lakebed and to restore nearby wetlands.

In addition, Oroville Dam needs to be repaired. Stored water is released in the fall to create space for incoming flood water. This reduces the dam’s water supply and power generation benefits. Therefore, repairing Oroville Dam flood control facilities is an appropriate state expenditure, and should not be paid for entirely by State Water Project customers. This will reduce water rates for 80 percent of all Californians.

The Friant Kern Canal, running between Fresno and Bakersfield, serves more than 15,000 small farmers, growing food on 1 million acres of the world’s best agricultural soils. The canal subsided during the last drought due to excessive groundwater pumping by farmers who do not receive water from the canal. This reduced the canal’s capacity to carry water. In the subsequent wet year, it was impossible to store underground 300,000 acre-feet of water, enough for more than 1 million people. It is appropriate for the state to repair the canal, so that water can be stored underground, and crop production can continue.

Proposition 3, an initiative measure, became necessary when the Legislature failed to pass a comprehensive water bond. Funds from the last water bond will soon be exhausted. Proposition 3 is affordable. Even the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, normally a staunch foe of tax and bond measures, does not oppose it. Proposition 3 does not raise taxes.

Disadvantaged communities have often been left out of previous water bonds. Restoration of urban streams and rivers, like the Los Angeles River (which runs mainly through disadvantaged neighborhoods), are well funded in Proposition 3. Safe drinking water and stormwater capture funds are reserved for disadvantaged communities. Cost-sharing requirements are reduced or waived for these communities.

Proposition 3 is endorsed by a diverse coalition of water quality scientists and dozens of local water districts; more than 100 conservation groups like the Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, and Audubon California; business groups like the California Chamber of Commerce; the Agricultural Council of California; the League of California Cities; the Rural County Representatives of California; and the California Federation of Labor.

Voters should support Proposition 3. It will supply safe drinking water for dozens of disadvantaged communities, improve water quality and supply in our mountain watersheds, and provide enough water for 3 million families. It will restore thousands of acres of wetlands and wildlife habitat, and provide the water we need to get through the next inevitable drought.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Water Deeply.

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