Scrap the Water Bond

Scrap the Water Bond
Photo by Richard Ricciardi via Flickr Creative Commons

Whether you call it “the water bond” or Proposition 18, the California legislature should scrap this proposed bond measure currently slated for the November 2010 ballot-not postpone it to 2012. Passed by the legislature in late-night backroom sessions last November, this $11.14 billion bond would continue to provide subsidies and cheap water to corporations while costing taxpayers $22 billion to finance-double the cost of the bond.

Where does this money come from? Historically, water projects are paid for by fees to the beneficiaries known as revenue bonds. This bond, however, is a general obligation bond and must be paid back out of the state’s General Fund. What other services are funded by the General Fund? Such essential services as education, fire and police, transportation and state parks. Would this bond benefit corporations and other special-interest projects at the expense of these services? Yes.

But isn’t California in a drought and in need of this water, you ask? Yes and no.

California has faced severe drought conditions for the last three years, but we are currently at 150% of our average annual snowfall. The last decade has seen both record rainfall and record water shortages. If used and managed efficiently, we have sufficient water to meet our needs for both urban and agricultural uses. We currently spend 20% of the state’s energy pumping water around the state and then storing it in dams where it evaporates. Enough water evaporates from California’s 1,400 dams each year to supply 4  million people with water.

Instead of building more dams to pump more water, we need to provide incentives for urban conservation, smart development, efficient irrigation and responsible industry. We also need to invest in conservation in agriculture by helping farmers transition to crops that make sense to grow in our climate. We must additionally invest in conservation in agriculture by helping farmers transition to crops that make sense to grow in our climate.

Few Californians are set to benefit from this hypothetical increase in water supply that will somehow appear if this bond were to pass and more dams were built. In March, San Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests were quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying that they hoped for a $3.3 billion dam and reservoir to be built at Temperance Flat because they needed the water from the dam, but they were not willing to shoulder the costs associated with the project.

Who else benefits from the passage of Proposition 18? The beneficiaries are clear when you look at the “Yes on the Bond endorsements. Endorsers include the Westlands Water District; the Kern County Water Agency, which jointly manages a water bank with billionaire agribusiness executive Stewart Resnick; the California Farm Bureau; and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Westlands operates in a desert where the soil is very salty and has other contaminants, requiring immense quantities of water to flush the soil out in order to grow crops. With fewer than 150 landowners controlling around 600,000 acres, individuals in the Westlands wield a lot of financial and political power. Westlands is in ongoing negotiations for additional water transfers with Paramount Farms, the largest private agribusiness in the world, owned by Beverly Hills billionaires Stuart and Linda Resnick.

The Resnicks also own Pom Wonderful and Fiji Water, hold a majority share in the Kern County Water Bank and export an ungodly amount of almonds and pistachios to China. They aren’t feeding Valley residents. Landholders in the southern part of the Valley would also benefit from the bond because it would allow them to sell more water to developers, both in southern California and the Bay Area. Landholders can get water from the state for a heavily subsidized $25-$50 an acre and sell it to developers for hundreds of times that amount-an incredible profit. Why should we subsidize these profits with our tax dollars?

You will undoubtedly hear from some that there is funding in the water bond for good projects that progressives traditionally support. That’s true, but it’s too little money and it is not worth the trade-offs we will see from the previously mentioned cuts to essential services.

Moreover, we may never see the money in the bond for these good projects. Since 1996, voters have approved more than $14.3 billion in water-related bonds. Nearly half of those bond dollars have not been spent, leaving the projects that were supposed to be funded incomplete.

The bond is written so that dams get funded first. If we can sell the rest of the bonds, the real public benefit projects won’t get funded until at least 2015. By that point, we will be operating under a new administration, hopefully with a better budget, and we would be in a position to pass a slimmer bond that would really benefit the public and the environment.

Let’s be clear. Proposition 18 does not provide immediate improvements in water quality or supply for southern California or the Central Valley. It does not provide adequate funding for conservation (only 2.25% of the bond is guaranteed for conservation programs). It does not prioritize funding for clean drinking water to low-income families (only 1% of the bond is guaranteed for disadvantaged communities). Nor does passing the bond provide any guarantee that adequate funding will actually be available for the promised projects.

What does Proposition 18 actually do? It bankrupts taxpayers, benefits corporate special interests and continues the failed policies of the past–including more dams and a down payment on the peripheral canal–that will be the final demise of the already threatened Delta ecosystem.

You may have heard that the water bond is being removed from the November ballot. Although Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed that the bond be removed from the November 2010 ballot, it will take a two-thirds vote of the legislature to make that happen. And postponing this proposition will not make it any better. As Lois Wolk said, “The bond isn’t fine wine; it won’t get any better with age.” Help us scrap this bond altogether by taking action to let the legislature know you want Proposition 18 repealed, not postponed. Visit to learn more and to submit your endorsement now.


  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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