Are benefits of Prop. 1 being oversold?


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2014-10-23-Prop1coverProposition 1 — a $7.1 billion state bond to pay for a variety of water projects — was billed as a huge improvement over bloated past proposed water bonds when it emerged from the Legislature this summer. Now Gov. Jerry Brown’s political warchest and Sean Parker of Facebook and Napster fame are funding an ad campaign that aggressively pitches the measure and the Prop 2 rainy-day fund as crucial for California’s future.

Last week, however, one of the relatively few think tanks that specializes in water issues came out with a 26-page analysis that in low-key fashion suggests Prop 1’s merits are being exaggerated. The Pacific Institute, based in Oakland, says it is neutral on the measure. But its concluding chapter strongly  suggests that the bond is likely to disappoint anyone who sees it as a game-changer for state water policy:

We note that nothing in this proposition will provide immediate relief from the current drought or offer short-term assistance to those suffering the consequences of current water challenges. If Proposition 1 passes, if the funds are designated for effective projects, and if those projects are well-designed and well-implemented, the long-term benefits could include a reduction in the risks of future droughts and floods as well as improvements in the health of California’s aquatic ecosystems. A key priority of the bond is to augment the state’s water supply and improve water supply reliability, with more than $4.2 billion in taxpayer funding dedicated to that priority.

As was the case with the 2010 bond, there is substantial funding in the 2014 bond for the public benefits portions of surface water or groundwater storage projects. The 2010 bond included $3.0 billion directly for water storage; the current language includes $2.7 billion. Because the total size of the 2014 bond is smaller than the 2010 bond, the proportion of total funding committed for storage increased from 30% to 36%. Beyond the eduction in the total allocation from $3 billion to $2.7 billion, the water storage language in the proposed 2014 bond is almost identical to the language in the original 2010 bond.

Far less of the bond funds are available for other water supply and demand management options, including recycled water, stormwater capture, and efficiency. Yet, these options can typically provide more water at lower cost than most storage projects. Funding for water conservation and efficiency is especially low, at only $100 million, or about 1% of the bond.

 A down payment on water future “at best”

The think tank also worries that once the bond money is in hand, allocation decisions may be poorly handled.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of Proposition 1 funds in addressing California’s overall water problems will depend on how the funds, if passed by the voters, are actually allocated and spent. If Proposition 1 passes, the Institute recommends that the California Water Commission develop a rigorous, independent, and transparent evaluation of the process governing the evaluation and quantification of the public benefits of proposed storage projects. It also recommends that decisions about the rest of the funds be made with a focus on meeting public and ecosystem needs for safe and reliable water, improvements in efficient use, and reductions in the risks of future droughts and floods.

If good projects are identified and supported, these funds can help move the state forward in the broader effort of designing, building, and managing a 21st century water system. But voters should not expect immediate relief from Proposition 1 for the impacts of the current drought; nor should they expect these funds to be the last investment that is needed for better institutions, smarter planning, and more effective water management strategies. It can be, at best, a down payment on our water future.

The obvious solution that may someday be forced on us

ws_infographics_outdoorI’ve always thought that California’s water problems are seen through a distorted lens — one which doesn’t acknowledge that if water use is prioritized, genuine nightmares harming our quality of life are easily avoided.

The U.S. EPA says one-third of residential water use goes to maintain lawns. That’s nearly 9 billion gallons a day. And much of that is wasted.

If we ever had a water shortage so severe that it threatened our economy, stopping the use of water for what might be called cosmetic purposes would be an obvious step. Sorry, but using precious water so folks can have a green lawn should be the lowest water priority of all if the megadrought some expect for the Southwest comes to pass.

Brown lawns or dead lawns, in the grand scheme of things, are not genuine nightmares.

This article was originally published on


  1. The system needs to be changed, and if you keep giving them money (approving bonds) they will see no need to make those changes.

    VOTE NO in 2014!


    VOTE NO!

  2. While use of water for lawns and trees “might be called cosmetic”, there is a definite economic issue at hand that you completely ignore and that is property values. This is extremely important as the home is the most valuable asset for many homeowners. I guarantee that a home in a neighborhood full of homes with dead lawns, shrubs and trees is worth considerably less than it would be if the grass, trees and shrubs are healthy and maintained. The vegetation also is valuable in converting the “dreaded” greenhouse gas CO2 into oxygen.

    Of course there are alternatives, desert landscaping or artificial grass. However, the cost to put in artificial grass can be prohibitive at $5 a square foot. I would love to put in a artificial lawn, but have about 3000 square feet of lawn, and simply cannot afford $15,000 to install it. Also, Installing artificial grass would only save about $1200 a year on my water bill making it not very cost effective.

    The sad reality is that our politicians and unelected bureaucrats have not done their jobs over the years. It is always the same story, whether it be our state’s water supply, roads or schools, if the voters will just give us (the politicians and unelected bureaucrats) more money they’ll fix it this time. BS, it could have been fixed 30 years ago, but they will never fix it.

  3. Gotta Gedada Displace says

    WHERE’s any mention IF that UN-identified EPA verbage and large (of course!) number is ACROSS the USA, in CA, in SoCal, or in ANY context whatsoever?? AH, yes! The last few days before Election, which have degenerated into a death-duel to decide WHICH half-truthful (or less!) sound bites capture the IMAGINATION of the majority of low-or-marginally informed voters! But OF COURSE, after a diet of media pictures of dry lake beds, why SHOULDN’T we JUMP to the conclusion that urban landscape is LARGELY COSMETIC, so we can abandon, or concrete (which NEEDS WATER to mix!) it over! Well, just randomly pick ANY document regarding landscape from your own city (here’s a typical one) and you might find a few WORDS OF REMINDER-
    “to improve the natural and urban environment by… the use of landscaping elements and retention of existing trees can contribute to the processes of air purification, oxygen regeneration, groundwater recharge, abatement of noise, glare and heat…..” OH, FORGOT about those, huh? Maybe we should do some COMPREHENSIVE reading about Water Use and its EFFECTS, and leave the Knee-JERK solution grabs TO the JERKS? Cut WASTE? Certainly! Prioritize USE? Certainly! AVOID voting for PORK? Certainly! But data is for distilling DOWN TO a solution, NOT blindly WRAPPING AROUND one!

  4. I’m with askeptic 100 percent.
    We elect politicians (porkaticians in Kalifornia) to wisely utilize the tax dollars that we send to Sacrademento. It’s not happening. The Govenor and legislature are content to provide illegal aliens with housing, healthcare, and educations, while the money that WE send to Sacrademento would be more wisely spent on infrastructure, which includes a reliable water storage and distribution system. (We don’t need no stinkin’ Choo Choo either)
    My fear on this $7~$8 billion dollar bond initiative will be relegated to ‘Crony Capitalism’ for the UNIONS that the DEMOCRATS in Sacrademento are beholden to.
    The politicians that are in Sacrademento are FAILING the taxpayers miserably.
    The solution to the problem is NOT sending more tax dollars to Sacrademento, the solution is to elect politicians to do the job they are being paid to do. Nothing more, nothing less.
    As long as we are the FOOLS that make the porkaticians look good by constantly approving bonds to pay for the projects that THEY should be producing, they will continue to spend OUR tax dollars willy nilly (or more to the point,, illegal alieny) and will continue to come back to the tax payers, saying like a spoiled teenager, “wah, I need more money”.
    Time to MAKE them do the job they were elected to do, or else elect people who will do the job they are paid to do in Sacrademento.
    We are taxed to death in Taxifornia. It’s time we DEMAND something from the individuals whose enormous salaries we pay.
    VOTE NO in 2014, and put ’em on notice.
    (I tried to use grey water from my washing machine to water my lawn last year, and got a strong warning from the enviro-terrorists enforcement for doing do) The grass didn’t mind though!!!!

  5. This bill is a joke, it deserves a NO vote. Also VOTE NO on BROWN. He has had 3 chances to fix this state but has made it worse off each time he took office. CA has Brown Rot

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