No on Prop 3 Water Bond -- A Bad Version of a Good Idea

Proposition 3 would issue $8.9 billion in general obligation bonds in order to pay for water-related infrastructure and projects. As a general matter, we need to be investing in our water infrastructure and related environmental projects. Many of the goals and programs of Prop 3 are important, especially a half billion dollars for projects that improve drinking water in disadvantaged communities. It’s not surprising that all the government agencies and nonprofit land trusts that would get funding from this initiative support it, as well as some groups representing disadvantaged communities. But the credible concerns voiced by trusted environmental groups like the Sierra Club and good government organizations like the League of Women Voters lead us to oppose it. Prop 3 is not the right answer to our water problems and deserves a NO vote.

Prop 3 has the potential to harm the environment. Its designers rebuffed environmentalists’ requests to prevent any money from being used to build or expand dams, which can hurt wildlife habitats and forest ecosystems. Plus, it moves all the money in the Habit Conservation Fund to water acquisition after 2020. It may also undermine California’s fight against global warming. It moves money from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to State Water Project and Central Valley Project water agencies. Instead of funding these water agencies to do new projects, it may simply allow them to fund existing projects that currently are funded from other sources, meaning that there won’t be much, if any, decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.

Prop 3 provides subsidies to fix the damage caused by Big Agriculture in the Central Valley and to enable continued destructive practices. According to the Sierra Club, it “provides $750 million to the Friant Water Authority for repairs to the Friant-Kern canal. This $750 million in subsidies could — and likely will — help the Friant Water Authority fund dam projects that are harmful to the environment and strongly opposed by the environmental community. The Friant-Kern Canals are units of the Federal Central Valley Project, which is funded almost entirely by 20 agricultural water agencies that collectively irrigate 879,000 acres of farmland. Purported needs for additional funding cite increased groundwater pumping that has led to subsidence, which has damaged the canals. Those who pumped the water and caused the damage should pay to repair the canals.”

Even more concerning, there is no possibility of legislative or administrative oversight, which is contrary to the normal procedures for environmental bonds. In the words of the Sierra Club, “All of the bond funds are continuously appropriated, meaning that there is no legislative appropriation, removing the public from overseeing how funds are spent or if the programs are effective. The bond programs are also exempt from the Administrative Procedure Act, providing no avenue for public input into the allocation of its funds, and no review by the Office of Administrative Law of whether the spending complies with the bond’s stated priorities.”

The reason Prop 3 is poorly constructed is because it didn’t go through the legislature and governor’s office like most water bonds do. Instead, it was hammered out in backroom deals and extra incentives were included for the wealthy business interests who had money to finance the campaign to get it on the ballot and pass it. The $4 billion water bond that was on the June 5th ballot and was approved overwhelmingly by voters went through this deliberative, legislative process.

Despite this recent bond, in this age of climate disruption, we still need more funding for water infrastructure and conversation. But Prop 3 is not the right way to do it. LA Forward recommend voters vote NO and ask their legislators to craft a better bond measure for approval in 2020.