A Watered-down Bond for Water System Improvements?

CA Senate President Pro Tem tells water conference $11 billion is too much 

Is the 2012 water bond heading for the drain?

“There are two subjects water people least want to talk about: politics and money,” said the former head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, David Nahai. He was speaking at the “Future of Water in Southern California” conference on a dry and windy Friday, here in the City of Angels. And those two were the uncomfortable topics State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) talked about in his lunch hour keynote.

[module align=”left’ width=”half” type=”pull-quote”]”Everybody asks ‘what’s gonna happen with the bond?’ I don’t know,” Steinberg countered, to modest chuckles.[/module]

Sponsored by UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, the conference was generously sprinkled with Southland water and sanitation district staff. They’d just spent the morning presenting new ideas for water “banking,” and new technologies for advanced recycling, and Steinberg knew the idea of less money would not wash down well with the noontime pasta salad and sandwiches. In fact, a proposal to cut 25% from each project in the water bond measure even failed an Assembly committee vote on Jan. 10th.

As our interactive map (below) shows, the $11.1 billion proposal’s largest proposals are for water storage, Bay-Delta sustainability, groundwater clean-up, and advanced water treatment and recycling.

View KQED: California’s Water Bond – Where Would the Money Go? in a larger map

The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) is already on record as opposing any reduction, calling the cut “premature” in Capitol testimony earlier this month. In an Op-Ed piece for the Sacramento Bee, ACWA chief Timothy Quinn — also a former head of the Southern California Metropolitan Water District — brandished a Field survey it commissioned in which 84% of voters agreed, “the state has major water problems and must invest in its water infrastructure to ensure reliable water now and in future years.” And 64% said “investing billions of dollars in a state bond package (such as the one on the November ballot) would be worth it to ensure reliable water supplies.”

Steinberg conceded that most think the bond is “too large,” and critics say it’s overladen with pork. “I can accept that but one person’s pork is another person’s regional water solution,” Steinberg told the gathering. “We’re not going to be able to sell an $11 billion bond to voters during a very precarious period of economic recovery.” The alternative numbers he gently lobbed were in the range of seven-to-ten billion dollars.

A nationwide poll, “The Value of Water,” by hydro technology firm Xylem, Inc., showed — as of 18 months ago — water users were up for spending 11% more a month to upgrade their water systems. But the Natural Resources Defense Council had postprandial admonitions about the need to get truly creative with water system financing. NRDC’s David Beckman pointed to the group’s Center for Market Innovation, which is working to create large-scale private sector financing for energy efficiency projects.

In closing, Steinberg floated a compromise: “The choice may be do it our way and risk getting nothing or do the best we can — albeit with a smaller bond.”


A Watered-down Bond for Water System Improvements? 30 January,2012Kimberly Ayers

One thought on “A Watered-down Bond for Water System Improvements?”

  1. As long as the State continues to view local water agencies as their primary stakeholders, CA will not be able to solve its water problems. Having participated in a workshop on the Santa Clara Valley Comprehensive Resources Management Plan, I know that this is not so.  As a water wholesaler, they look to their customers, e.g. city water departments, as their stakeholders, and I know that my city did not represent me or any other member of the public.  The head of the public works dept told me that he did not want to do any water conservation programs in good years because their would be nothing to fall back on during dry years.  Such short range thinking is what creates crises during drought and will ultimately create bigger crises with climate change.

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Kimberly Ayers

Kimberly Ayers has lived in California for more than 20 years, both north and south. Growing up in the Middle East as an "oil brat," she has been blessed with lots of travel. Her storytelling has appeared most recently on the National Geographic Channel, including reporting from Belize and Egypt. For the past four years, she has produced the PBS stations' broadcast of the National Geographic Bee: the questions are really hard, and the kids are crazy-smart. At forty-something, she walked the Catalina Marathon, and most mornings you will find her walking somewhere on the SoCal coast.

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