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Proposition 1: A False Framing of California’s Water Crisis

Over-Allocated Water Supply Requires a Better Solution


While California struggles through an epic drought with no forecasted end in sight, corporations and elected leaders play upon our justified fears in order to push through a massive water bond that doesn’t get at the root of our water crisis. The lack of rain has clearly been a problem, but the fact that our state has routinely over-allocated our annual water supply highlights the fundamental mismanagement of water: On paper, our state has promised five times the amount of water we receive in annual rainfall, snowmelt, etc. This is the real water crisis — one that Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond on the November ballot, fails to address. With interest, that’s a $14.4 billion mistake that taxpayers will pay for over the next 40 years.

Proposition 1 won’t increase the state’s water supply, won’t provide drought relief, and won’t improve California’s long-term water outlook. Rather than prioritize sustainable water solutions, this wrong-headed bond package strengthens a political system beholden to large financial interests that prioritize short-term profits subsidized by taxpayers.

Agriculture accounts for around 80 percent of our state’s water usage. Proposition 1 does nothing to manage or rein in the entities that are growing water-intensive crops like almonds, pistachios, and pomegranates in the desert. Instead, Prop. 1 would continue to support these irresponsible growers, who then export a large share of their harvest for sale overseas. Big Agriculture has made billions of dollars selling these cash crops overseas, bought political favors, and influenced water policy with campaign contributions for decades, and it is now providing massive financial support for Proposition 1. Taxpayer-subsidized water infrastructure in California has directly benefited corporate agribusiness in the form of cheap water at the expense of not only the environment but also long-term water security for the citizens of the state.

In addition, Prop. 1 sets aside $2.7 billion for water storage projects — meaning dams. Building new dams during a drought in a state that already has 1,400 dams is simply a waste of taxpayer money, especially when the three dam projects prioritized in Prop. 1 would increase the state’s water supply by just one percent. In contrast, the bond contains zero money for fixing the type of infrastructure erosion that caused the pipe to burst at UCLA in July that cost us millions of gallons of water. We lose billions of gallons of water every year because of aging and fracturing distribution systems across the state, but the bond offers woefully inadequate funding to address this glaring problem.

Only 1.3 percent of the bond — $100 million dollars — could go toward conservation projects, about 2.6 percent to storm water capture, 9.6 percent to water recycling, and 12 percent to groundwater cleanup. That is just a drop in the bucket for an enormous state with great need. In addition, local communities, nonprofits, and water districts will have to compete to receive a trickle of these funds while the rest of their taxpayer dollars flow right into the pockets of a few big special interests.With local communities and agencies competing with each other for a small pot of money that isn’t enough to address our infrastructure deficit in the first place, Proposition 1 turns from a step in the right direction into a mirage.

Californians realize we are in a drought, and we want to do something, but we also need to better understand our water resources, how they have been mismanaged, and get engaged to manage water for the best interest of people and the environment.

The financial argument against another water bond is made more prescient when we remember that between 2000 and 2006 voters passed five water bonds totaling $15.47 billion. That money has not solved our water crisis, but with the cost of interest, we will spend $30 billion for water infrastructure that prioritizes private profits over people.

Don’t make that same mistake again. Vote “no” on Proposition 1 and demand real water solutions.

Ankur Patel is an organizer for Food and Water Watch.

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