Why NRDC Supports California's Prop 1 (Water Bond) on the November Ballot

Update 10/22/14 – It’s good to see that water issues continue to generate robust discussion here in California.  Since many of the comments on this post are about dams and storage, here are some links to comments by those who want to build more dams and who don’t support Prop 1 because it is not the road to new dams that they want.  NRDC supports Prop 1 because it provides the funds to make investments that California needs to diversify our water supply system and promote local reliability. 

“… a close look at the language in the proposition reveals that the initiative is another legislative “bait and switch” that will not complete a single major water storage or delivery system.” Breitbart.com 9.4.14

“… the storage money could go for anything, and below-ground storage … seems to have the upper track in some circles.”  Chico Enterprise Record, 10/4/14  

In the midst of an epic drought, California voters have an opportunity this November to invest $7.4 billion in state bonds that could be used for fiscally and environmentally responsible water projects across the state; projects that deal with short-term challenges of the drought and invest in long-term solutions for the future, including creating new water supplies, ecosystem restoration, safe drinking water for disadvantaged communities, and groundwater and surface storage.

NRDC fought hard to ensure that legislators crafted a bond that’s good for California’s environment and economy. And while it’s not perfect, it has broad bipartisan support and is backed by conservation groups, local water districts, business and labor leaders, editorial boards all around the state… because we all know that this bond does as much as it can for as many people and groups as possible, while ensuring that our tax dollars go as far as possible to address California’s water needs. 

So here’s why we support Proposition 1

1. Prop 1 will strengthen California’s water system by investing in much-needed local water supply projects like water recycling, groundwater cleanup, stormwater capture, water conservation, and other regional water supply projects around the state. The vast majority of these funds will go to local water districts (Prop 1 generally requires a local match for projects).  Using a transparent and competitive grant process will help ensure we get the most bang for the buck and create significant new, sustainable water supplies for communities around the state. 

How much water will these projects create?  A lot. See below.

According to the State, past bond investments of $1.4 billion helped create or save nearly 2 million acre feet per year – that’s enough water to serve three cities the size of Los Angeles. A recent report from NRDC and the Pacific Institute found that California can create or save even more.  With smart investments we can get more than 9 million acre feet of water from agricultural and urban water use efficiency, stormwater capture, and water recycling. Prop 1 can help leverage local investments in these tools, helping California weather future droughts, reduce reliance on the Bay-Delta and other overstressed surface and groundwater supplies, and provide significant environmental and social benefits (including reducing greenhouse gas emissions and embedded energy use, reducing coastal water pollution, and creating jobs in local communities).  

2. Prop 1 will help provide safe drinking water for all Californians, with an emphasis on disadvantaged communities.  It’s estimated that more than 1 million Californians (and possibly  as many as 3 million!) cannot safely drink the water that comes out of their tap because of contamination from arsenic, nitrates from agricultural pollution, perchlorate from industrial pollution, and other toxics. Most of these households rely on groundwater in rural communities and are not connected to a water treatment plant or water district. 

Prop 1 invests more than $500 million for safe drinking water and wastewater projects, prioritizing funding for economically disadvantaged communities. 

3. Prop 1 invests in environmental restoration projects around the state, including funding for the San Joaquin River, the Salton Sea, the L.A. River, and coastal habitat, as well as water supply to the state's wildlife refuges. Prop 1 would make significant investments to help restore the health of rivers, wildlife, the coast and watersheds across the state, in many cases working through local conservancies that have a strong track record of success. This helps sustain salmon and other native fisheries (and the thousands of jobs that depend on them), helps provide healthy rivers for the public to enjoy, and can help create new water supply (for instance, through mountain meadow restoration or through floodplain restoration that helps with stormwater capture and groundwater recharge).  

4. Prop 1 does not advance the State’s $25 billion flawed Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the proposal to build two massive tunnels under the Delta and divert unsustainable amounts of water (which my colleague has written about previously). In its editorial supporting Prop 1, the San Jose Mercury News emphasized that, “It is described as neutral and unrelated to the controversial twin tunnel project, since lawmakers know a ballot measure on the Delta plan would go down in flames. Opponents will try to tie it to the tunnels, we don’t see it – and nobody is more leery of the tunnels than we are.”

Not only does Prop 1 not fund the tunnels plan (thanks to hard work by legislators who represent the Delta -- like Senator Wolk and Assemblymember Eggman -- and BDCP critics like NRDC), but by funding investments in local water supply solutions, California can reduce reliance on the Delta and provide real alternatives to the flawed tunnel plan.

5. Prop 1 is not earmarked for new dams. Critics cite concerns about funding for surface and groundwater storage, but this simply isn’t the case (as my colleague has written before). Even the Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, and other newspapers have noted as much in their editorials endorsing Prop 1.

With respect to storage funding, Prop 1 requires that:

  • funds are awarded in a transparent, competitive process at the local level for projects that are economically feasible and comply with CEQA and environmental laws
  • funds only pay up to 50% of total project cost (the rest must be matched at the local level)
  • funds only pay for public benefits like ecosystem restoration
  • 50% of funding for any storage project must be for environmental benefits to the Bay-Delta estuary or its tributaries
  • funds are not earmarked for Temperance Flat dam or other environmentally harmful and economically infeasible new dams

Ultimately, NRDC is committed to making sure that Prop 1 funds are well spent. We’ll continue to watch over bond spending and work to ensure that economically infeasible and environmentally harmful dam projects like Temperance Flat are not funded from the bond or built.  

NRDC believes that Prop 1 is a sound investment in protecting California’s environment and economy for future generations. A vote for Prop 1 is not a vote for big dams, but it is a vote for major investments in regional water supplies and watershed restoration to help sustain the economy and environment.   

About the Authors

Annie Notthoff

Director, California Advocacy, San Francisco and Sacramento

Join Us