Viewpoints: Water bond is good for the environment

With California now in its fourth consecutive year of severe drought, the need for innovative, long-term solutions to safeguard water supplies has never been more urgent.

Competition for limited water runs high. It’s needed in our communities and on our farms. We need water flowing in our rivers to support fish, wildlife and recreation. Finding ways to meet all of these needs is not going to be easy. But a critical first step is to move toward a more sustainable system of water management, one that supports local resilience and recognizes the critical connection between groundwater and surface water.

Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond on the Nov. 4 ballot next month, includes important provisions to move our state toward this more sustainable approach to water management. And that’s why California Trout and American Rivers are two of the many environmental organizations urging Californians to vote “yes.”

We are well aware of the controversy regarding the provision that provides $2.7 billion for water storage projects. While we share the concerns of some environmental groups that this funding will spur construction of damaging surface dams and reservoirs, we also see tremendous opportunities for the bond to promote development of efficient and sustainable groundwater storage.

It makes the California Water Commission the gatekeeper of storage funds. The commission must ensure that bond funds will help fish and wildlife and the Delta. Funds can only support storage projects that benefit all of us, and any project – whether groundwater or surface – will be forced to compete for funding on a level playing field. As advocates for our state’s fish and wildlife and watershed health, we will do all that we can to ensure that funds for storage improve water security while also improving conditions for river health and native species.

Proposition 1, passed by a near-unanimous, bipartisan vote of the Legislature, includes billions of dollars to support clean water supplies and healthy rivers. Its provisions are based on the California Water Action Plan, a joint effort of the California’s Natural Resources Agency, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Food and Agriculture aimed at establishing specific goals and a vision for water management. The bond will invest in our water future by improving water supply reliability, restoring important natural areas that support fish and wildlife, upgrading flood-control systems and protecting and restoring river health.

The bond provides financial support for the recently passed Sustainable Groundwater Management Act – one of the most significant pieces of water legislation in the past 100 years in the state. For the first time, California’s groundwater will be managed with an emphasis on local control and long-term sustainability, both critical components to counteracting the effects of drought.

Proposition 1 also supports priority on-the-ground restoration work, with funding distributed in a way that will ensure equitable investment of funds across the state – our coastal wetlands, inland rivers, lakes and streams. Funding is also provided for the Klamath Settlement Agreements to restore the Klamath River and ensure community, tribal and fisheries sustainability.

The bond encourages a new way of thinking about agricultural land and endangered species, one that will make the most of land alongside rivers and streams to support both farming and native fish and birds. The habitat exchange programs funded by the bond create economic incentives for growers and landowners to maintain high-quality habitat on their farms. When growers restore habitat, they can sell “habitat credits” on the open market, thus diversifying their income while making changes that support the long-term recovery of native species.

Like most of California’s leading conservation organizations, we believe that Proposition 1 puts the state’s environment and economy on the right path toward a sustainable future.

Curtis Knight is executive director of California Trout. Steve Rothert is California regional director for American Rivers.