What Billions in Bonds Could Do for California Water

From clean drinking supply to sinking infrastructure, California has a lot to worry about when it comes to water. Two upcoming bonds could make a dent in the work ahead.
May 25, 2018, 8am PDT | Elana Eden
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Hank Shiffman

California voters will soon decide whether to fund two water bonds for a total of $13 billionThe Planning Report examines the complementary proposalsone in June and one in November—in an interview with Jerry Meral, a veteran of natural resource management and a proponent of the November bond.

Up first on the June ballot, Proposition 68 would spread $4 billion among parks, trails, and land conservation, as well as water recycling. More money specifically for water infrastructure would come from the $8.9 billion Water Supply and Water Quality bond scheduled for the November ballot. That measure is expansive, covering 100 different types of water projects, Meral says.. Some of its major funding categories include:

  • Safe drinking water and wastewater disposal ("a big priority in disadvantaged communities," Meral notes.)
  • Wastewater recycling, water conservation, and watershed restoration. 
  • Implementation of California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act—a landmark bill meant to help the state replenish the copious amounts of water it draws from underground every year.
  • Repair of the Oroville Dam, whose failure in 2017 forced the evacuation of 188,000 people, and of the sinking Friant-Kern Canal, which supplies key farmland areas.
  • Restoring the polluted, shrinking Salton Sea. "I daresay the Salton Sea is the single greatest threat to air quality in the United States," Meral says, as the exposed seabed could "blow dust of biblical proportions" all over the state. The two bonds together cover the funding needed for the state's restoration plan.

Meral also talks about California's reliance on bond measures to fund major infrastructure investments, and the willingness of voters to pay for them all. It's not an ideal long-term strategy, he stresses, but for the moment, it could bode well for water in the state—especially since the need for funding is "substantially greater" than the upcoming bond measures combined.

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Published on Thursday, May 24, 2018 in The Planning Report
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