Soapbox

Bad ballot measure would block local water projects

Irrigation pipes sit along a dried-out canal on a field near Stockton last May.
Irrigation pipes sit along a dried-out canal on a field near Stockton last May. Associated Press file

Californians concerned about the drought and who want to build more water storage and other critically needed infrastructure should be extremely concerned with an initiative that has qualified for the November ballot.

It has been well-chronicled that the measure is solely funded by an individual who wants to disrupt a single project – the proposed water tunnels through the Delta.

But regardless of one’s position on that issue, the initiative has far more sweeping implications that will disrupt other infrastructure projects in California that are funded with revenue bonds.

Our organization, representing water suppliers and local governments in Northern California, carefully evaluated this initiative. The board of directors unanimously voted to oppose it – not based on the Delta tunnels, but because it could jeopardize the ability of our members to meet their communities’ various water needs.

While this ballot measure claims to be about “empowering voters” to decide what infrastructure projects to fund, the exact opposite is true. The measure would erode local control by requiring statewide votes on some projects, even when they are funded by local users and ratepayers.

Cities and special districts that want to work with the state and form joint powers authorities to issue revenue bonds to upgrade regional and local water systems, roads, bridges and airports also could have to put their project on a statewide ballot. Why should voters in Los Angeles or Marin counties be able to reject a water storage project in Fresno County?

With the overwhelming voter passage of the 2014 water bond, California is finally on track to fund one or more desperately needed water storage projects. But if approved by the voters, this measure would create another avenue for opponents to try to block the projects, potentially including the Sites and Temperance Flat reservoirs, because they will likely be funded by a mix of water bonds and revenue bonds issued by regional JPAs.

Proponents of this initiative say they declined to define what qualifies as a “project” because they wanted the courts to decide which projects should require a statewide vote. This lack of clarity will undoubtedly be exploited by opponents who will call for statewide votes merely to create litigation and delay.

We have a serious backlog of water supply and distribution projects. The last thing we need is to tie the hands of local communities with new bureaucratic and legal hurdles.

That is why nearly 100 public safety, business, labor, health care, agriculture, water, education and other organizations have already come out in opposition to this initiative. We will continue to urge others to look beyond the misleading campaign slogans and understand the consequences of this dangerous measure.

David Guy is president of the Northern California Water Association. He can be contacted at dguy@norcalwater.org.

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