By Miriam Raftery
Photos courtesy of Helix Water District
July 3, 2010 (Sacramento) – Due to the state budget deficit, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger this week announced his intent to ask the Legislature to postpone Proposition 18, the $11.4 million water bond measure that qualified for the November 2010 ballot, until November 2012. Postponement would require a two-thirds vote of both the Assembly and Senate.
The measure faced mounting opposition from consumer, environmental and labor groups, with even many supporters urging revision or postponement amid the current economic situation.
“By waiting until 2012, we can give the economy a greater opportunity to rebound and lessen economic concerns about this critical investment,” said Senator Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto), author of the measure.
Arguments in favor
Proposition 18, titled the Safe, Clean and Reliable Drinking Water Act, would fund (along with local cost-sharing) drought relief, water supply reliability, Delta sustainability, statewide water system operational improvements, conservation and watershed protection, groundwater protection, water recycling and water conservation programs, according to the Governor’s office.
“It’s critical that the water bond pass, as it will improve California’s economic growth, environmental sustainability and water supply for future generations,” Schwarzenegger said. “For that reason, I will work with the Legislature to postpone the bond to the next ballot and avoid jeopardizing its passage.”
Alliance for Clean Water and Jobs, formed to support Prop 18, includes the Association of California Water Agencies, California Chamber of Commerce, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Western Growers Association and Westlands Water District. Two environmental NGOs, the Nature Conservancy California and Audubon California, back the bond.
No on the Water Bond , an alliance formed to oppose Prop 18, includes a coalition of consumer, education, environmental, fishing, farming, tribal, labor and social justice groups. Proposition 18 opponents include the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the River, Inter-Tribal Water Commission, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Planning and Conservation League, Restore the Delta, Sierra Club California and Winnemem Wintu Tribe.
Opponents of Proposition 18 have cited various reasons for concerns. The Riverside Press-Enterprise editorialized that the measure contained “costly political pork” and noted, “There is no reason taxpayers across the state should pay for infrastructure that serves only a limited group of water users—and certainly no call for taxpayers to boost private companies’ profits.”
Labor unions including California Teachers Association have weighed in against the measure as well. "We can't afford an $11.14 billion water bond," said David Sanchez, President of CTA. "With an already outrageous budget deficit, California can't afford an additional $1 billion every year, taking even more money away from our students, our schools and other essential services."
The $11.14 billion water bond is part of the campaign by Governor Schwarzenegger and agribusiness interests to build a peripheral canal and new dams. Environmentalists and sport fishing interests argue that the canal is likely to result in extinction of Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta smelt, green sturgeon and southern resident killer whales populations. The peripheral canal/tunnel would cost $23 billion to $53.8 billion at a time when California has slashed the budgets for teachers, game wardens, state parks and health care for children.
Impact of postponement
Delaying the bond will not impact other parts of the 2009 water package passed by the Legislature, including enhancements to the Delta ecosystem, improved monitoring of groundwater basins, reducing statewide consumption and improving diversion patterns, a statement from the Governor’s office indicated.
There is precedent for postponing costly projects during economic hard times. A bond authorizing construction of a high speed rail system was twice delayed, ultimately winning approval of voters in 2008.