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Will the Water Bond Deliver?

They lose over and over again to the NRDC, but think somehow this time they will win.

Oct 06, 2014

Some of our friends don't understand our reluctance to show enthusiasm for Prop 1, the Water Bond. Why not support it? What do we have to lose, they say. Before we answer those questions we would like to tell you why we have some of the same reservations about the bond as the Chico Enterprise-Record in their editorial below where they recommend a no vote.

The editorial points out that they think the bond is their best chance to build the Sites Reservoir, but "
we can't bring ourselves to believe that will happen, based on how the bond is written." We also believe Sites is the more likely to be built, more so than Temperance Flat, but share the same misgivings about the bond language.

We should point out that the Chico Enterprise-Record has nothing positive to say about the Central Valley. They are not on our side. But, that's not why they oppose the bond. They oppose it because "the storage money could go for anything, and below-ground storage (which isn't an option up here) seems to have the upper track in some circles." They go on to point out (as we have) that "the counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council — a fairly radical environmental group that backs Proposition 1 — was quoted
Tuesday by the Associated Press as saying it wasn't about building "new big dams." Why is it that the NRDC thinks the water bond isn't about building dams, but many here in the Valley think it is?

The Chico editorial board conclusion: "We have to think our folks are wrong. They are so outnumbered." Why do people here in the Valley not see the obvious? They lose over and over again to the NRDC, but think somehow this time they will win. It's not just the NRDC. Their people and graduates are everywhere, in the legislature, on the State Water Resource Control Board. They run things, we don't.

Who will decide how the 'storage' money will be spent? According to the editorial, "the proposition says that would be decided by the California Water Commission, a nine-member board appointed by the governor and accountable to nobody."


Back to the question of what do we have to lose if we support it. It's a $7.5-billion bond, with just $2.75 billion for storage, dubious as it is. What we lose is the other 4 or so billion that is pork and will be spent. And, as noted above, the storage is also money that can be manipulated for other purposes.

CalWatchdog writer Wayne Lusvardi reminds us that "from 2000 to 2006, Californians approved five water bonds totaling $18.7 billion. But that water bond funding mostly went for land acquisitions for wetlands or preserving existing mountain watersheds, landscaping for water retention, eliminating water-consuming invasive plant species, environmental studies, etc. But not one drop of new system water storage was funded by those bonds."

So, what do you think? Will the Water Bond deliver?

Water bond doesn't pass muster, says the Chico Enterprise-Record


It is with reluctance that we recommend a no vote on Proposition 1, the water bond on the November ballot. It's likely the best chance our state has to get the badly needed Sites Reservoir built, but we can't bring ourselves to believe that will happen, based on how the bond is written.


Sites is important to the north state because it's the best way we can help the rest of the state with its water problems without harming ourselves. And it's naive to assume the rest of the state doesn't expect us to solve their problems.


You just have to look at reservoir levels to understand that. The reservoirs actually collecting water where the rain and snow falls are emptier than those at the end of the pipe, where it rarely rains and water is collected from elsewhere and stashed for Southern California's use. Lake Oroville's 30 percent full; Lake Shasta and Trinity Lake, 25 percent; Folsom Lake, 35 percent. At the end of the pipe, Diamond Valley Reservoir is 50 percent full; Pyramid Lake, 93 percent full.


We're already solving problems that are not of our making. We didn't put the second largest city in the nation in a location that might have enough native water for a burg the size of Fresno. And we didn't change hundreds of thousands of acres in the naturally arid western San Joaquin Valley from annual crops like cotton — that could be fallowed in a drought — to orchards and vineyards that have to have water each year.


So what? If you haven't noticed, "That's not fair" doesn't cut any weight in a political debate in this state.


We in the north state are expected to solve the water problems south of the delta. We will be compelled to solve those problems whether we like it or not. Sites would allow us to help by collecting the excess water that is undeniably here sometimes — the stuff that floods the dips on Ord Ferry Road for instance — for use elsewhere when things finally dry out.


The alternative is to tap our aquifers, specifically, the Lower Tuscan Aquifer, which runs deep under the central Sacramento Valley. It's been coveted by the state Department of Water Resources for decades, and they've been studying how to exploit it for all that time. The research hasn't really answered any of the critical questions, like how much water is there, how does the water get there, and how much water could you draw from it without damaging it.


The only question that had been answered is that the aquifer is the foundation for our local ecosystem, upon which our agricultural economy is built, upon which all of the other economic pursuits of the Sacramento Valley depend, though many people here probably don't realize their white-collar jobs depend on the folks with dirt under their fingernails.

If Sites doesn't get built, the state will still come here looking for water. And the sweeping groundwater bill passed this year gives them access to the Tuscan, the authority to ignore local government, and the ability to undercut the economy of the north state. They're just missing the money to do it right now.


That's why if this proposition actually came out and explicitly said most of the $2.75 billion earmarked for water storage would actually go to Sites, to ease the threat to the Tuscan, we'd be in favor of it. We'd still have reservations as the bond measure is for $7.5 billion, and $3 billion to $4 billion appear to be nothing more than pork to garner support from people who can't see the big picture.
But the storage money could go for anything, and below-ground storage (which isn't an option up here) seems to have the upper track in some circles. Indeed, the counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council — a fairly radical environmental group that backs Proposition 1 — was quoted Tuesday by the Associated Press as saying it wasn't about building "new big dams." Curiously, every representative the north state has in the Legislature thinks that's exactly what it's about.


We have to think our folks are wrong. They are so outnumbered.


The Legislature, or even voters, wouldn't decide how that $2.75 billion for "water storage" is spent. The proposition says that would be decided by the California Water Commission, a nine-member board appointed by the governor and accountable to nobody.


That nine-member board has one person from north of Sacramento. It has a person from the building industry, an attorney, people who have worked for Defenders of Wildlife and the Nature Conservancy ... and just one person with a farming background.


They could decide to spend $2.75 billion on anything that resembles "water storage" and the voters would have no recourse to say that they didn't get what they expected.


Those familiar with the bullet train proposition will see parallels.


In our view, Proposition 1 gives the state $7.5 billion to mess around with the state's water system, with no guarantee any of the money will actually be spent on what would really solve the problem, and the potential to fund activities that would seriously damage the north state.


We eye Proposition 1 with suspicion, because history has taught us it's wise to do so.


It's a $7.5 billion dollar crapshoot that we're likely to lose, no matter how the dice fall.

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