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Fall 2013

Will Californians Pay to Fix Our Water System Problem?

As lawmakers renegotiate the state’s water bond to fund critical water supply projects, the question still remains, will voters support spending the money necessary to fix California’s broken water system? 

The state legislature has delayed an over $11 billion water bond that was negotiated in 2009 numerous times.  Prior polling on that bond showed that voters were not willing to pass it, in response to that lawmakers have gone back to the drawing board to come up with a new deal.

Two bills have been authored, one by Assembly Member Rendon (D- Lakewood) and one by Senator Lois Wolk (D- Davis).  In an informational hearing titled, “Setting the Stage for the 2014 Water Bond: Where Do We Need To Go?” was held at the state capital on September 24.  During this hearing Assembly Member Rendon provided details of his bill, AB 1331, which is a $6.5 billion water bond titled Climate Change Responses for Clean and Safe Drinking Water Act of 2014.  In addition, Senator Wolk provided key committee members and the public details on her SB 42, which is a $6.475 billion measure titled, Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Flood Protection Act of 2014

During this hearing both legislators laid out their plans to replace the $11.14 billion water bond currently slated for the ballot with alternative proposals that they hope are more likely to be approved by the legislature and the voters. 

Recent polling is finding mixed results on what California voters are likely to support. In a recent Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll titled, “California’s and their Government”, only 53% believed water in their part of the state would be inadequate within 10 years.  The poll also found that about 49% believe the state should focus on conservation, user allocation, and other means to manage our water system, while 45% were supportive of building new storage facilities.  As for supporting financing for these water solutions, 55% of adults were likely to support a $6.5 billion measure and 50% of likely voters would vote yes for a water bond. 

Another poll conducted by USC Dornsife and the Los Angeles Times surveyed 1,500 registered voters in California in late September.  Their poll found that a majority of voters recognized there is a problem with our water supply system, but were unlikely to support a bond to fix the problems.  When asked the questions, “Do you think the state should incur a $5 or $6 billion bond debt to finance statewide water improvement projects?” only 36% were supportive, 54% thought it was not worth borrowing and 10% were undecided. 

It is clear that our states voters are a little weary about spending large amounts on water projects when every time they go to their faucets water comes out.  That makes it difficult to understand the immediate problems with our infrastructure system until there is a huge crisis.  Add to the mix the controversial Delta tunnel proposal supported by our Governor that only adds to the difficulty to get a water bond passed in 2014.  While both bond proposals will not fund the Delta tunnel proposals, it will take a lot of outreach to educate voters on the difference between the two plans. 

Most of those surveyed were satisfied with the cleanliness and availability of water in their homes. And that, pollsters said, is why voters are reluctant to spend billions on water projects.  If voters need a crisis to pass a water bond then 2014 may be the answer.  With record low reservoir storage unless Calinfornia gets the rain we need, 2014 will be a tough water year, but perhaps that’s what it will take. 



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