Competing bond measures would provide money for California's water infrastructure. (Craig Miller/KQED)
Competing bond measures would provide money for California’s water infrastructure. (Craig Miller/KQED)

One of several water bond proposals competing for a spot on the state’s November ballot has passed its first legislative test, winning approval from the state Senate’s Natural Resources and Water Committee.

The measure, SB848 by Sen. Lois Wolk, a Democrat from Davis, would raise $6.9 billion for new water storage, water treatment for communities with unsafe drinking water and environmental projects focused on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Wolk’s measure is supported by boards of supervisors in Contra Costa, Sonoma, Solano, Yolo and Sacramento counties and a heavyweight list of environmental and conservation groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club California, Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy.

Wolk has offered her bill as a cheaper and more focused alternative to an $11.14 billion bond bill the Legislature passed in 2009. That measure would have set aside $3 billion for the Legislature to spend on major infrastructure while designating most of its funds for scores of conservation, supply management, drought relief and water treatment projects around the state.

But the bond was pulled from the November 2010 ballot and again in 2012 amid concerns that the state’s chronic deficit crises would doom it to failure. The big bond is currently scheduled to appear on this November’s ballot — but is virtually certain to be replaced by Wolk’s bill or one of two major alternatives in the Legislature.

During today’s hearing, Wolk said it will be crucial to hold down the cost of a water bond, whatever its final form.

“I think one of the greatest dangers is that we just keep adding and adding and adding,” she said. “So it’s going to be very, very difficult. But I think we all need to do that, because I do believe we need a water bond.”

The two other bond bills working their way toward legislative action are AB1331, by Los Angeles-area Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (for $6.5 billion), and SB927, by San Joaquin Valley state Sens. Anthony Canella and Andy Vidak, both Republicans (for $9.2 billion).

The Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee released a brief comparison of the three measures last week (hat tip: Chris Austin of Maven’s Notebook; comparison is embedded below). The two Democratic measures are very similar, though AB1331 would devote more money to storage and less to conservation and regional water projects. The Republican bill omits conservation spending and would devote $1 billion to groundwater cleanup instead of safe drinking water projects.

Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to say whether he’d support placing a water bond on the November ballot.

  • jay edler

    It’s disappointing that this article uses a biased chart prepared by the office of one of the authors, Assemblymember Rendon, rather then doing some of their own reporting and comparing the different bond proposals. Lazy.


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

Email Dan at:


Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor