The $7.5 billion Water Bond (Prop. 1 on the November ballot) passed the legislature with near-unanimous votes and has been signed by the Governor. This is a very complicated bond with billions of taxpayer dollars at stake. The Club’s “no position” stance acknowledges the benefits of the bond, while also taking into account major concerns.
There are some very substantial environmental benefits outlined in the bonds. These include about $1.3 billion for non-controversial watershed restoration; $810 million for regional water management, storm water management, and efficiency; and $900 million for groundwater treatment, planning, and management. We strongly support these conservation and restoration programs. The bond will allocate more than $500 million to ensure safe drinking water for low-income disadvantaged communities in the southern San Joaquin Valley, and provide funding to clean up groundwater pollution in the Los Angeles basin. Real dollars will be available to ensure that communities around the state that are literally without water because of severe drought and serious groundwater pollution will get clean drinking water.
The proposition also explicitly prohibits spending any of the funds on the construction, design, maintenance, operation, or mitigation of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, Governor Brown’s proposal to build twin tunnels around the Bay Delta in order to ensure the continued export of unsustainable quantities of Delta water to Southern California.
So what’s not to like? Unfortunately the water bond also authorizes $2.7 billion (more than one third of the total bond package) for development of three environmentally damaging water storage projects. Because the water bond required a 2/3 vote in both houses of the legislature, Republicans were able to drive a hard bargain and obtain the $2.7 billion for surface storage in the Central Valley, including three projects Sierra Club has opposed because they are over-priced, inefficient and unneeded. These are the proposals to raise the Shasta Dam, and to build two new dams, one off-stream using Sacramento River water at Sites (Colusa County) and one upstream of Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River (Temperance Flat).
New above-ground storage projects would not only damage their local ecosystems, but would be bad investments, providing little additional water at enormous cost. According to an analysis done by the Fresno Bee, the five major reservoir projects being studied by the State (Temperance Flat, Sites, and raising the Shasta, Los Vaqueros, and San Luis Reservoir dams) would provide only an additional 520,000 acre feet of water in a dry year at a combined cost of $8.86 billion dollars. That’s a cost of $17,000 per acre-foot, or 8 times the record prices being paid for water in this critically dry year! The reason new and raised dams won’t deliver much additional water is because most of the water they are capable of storing is already spoken for.
The world is much different today than during the dam-building heyday in the 20th century. Climate disruption has begun and precipitation patterns are already changing. New dams won’t respond to that. The sooner the special interests that drive dam development in this state recognize this 21st-century reality and focus instead on moving aggressively to enable regional resiliency through conservation, efficiency, recycling, storm water capture, groundwater management and the like, the better off we will all be.