Peter Gleick: The California Water Bond — What Does Proposition 18 Really Say and Do?

The costs and benefits of California’s largest water bond in a half century have not been fully assessed by an independent organization, writes Peter Gleick.

At the end of 2009, the California Legislature passed a series of water-related bills and at the same time approved a massive $11.14 billion bond [the “Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010”] to fund a wide range of water projects and efforts. This is the largest water bond in 50 years, yet the costs and benefits of the bond have not been fully assessed by an independent organization. Until now.

Peter Gleick
Dr. Peter Gleick is president of the Pacific Institute, an internationally recognized water expert and a MacArthur Fellow.

This bond is to be voted on by California voters in November, as Proposition 18. The Governor recently proposed postponing the bond, but the Legislature has not yet taken the action required to have it pulled off of the November ballot.

The Pacific Institute has just completed a major, comprehensive, and independent analysis of the bond and released the report: The California 2010 Water Bond: What Does It Say and Do? The questions addressed by that analysis include:

  • What does the bond language actually cover and say?
  • How does the bond compare to past water bonds in size, definitions, and scope?
  • How will the bond be allocated among different funding priorities?
  • What are the governance implications of the bond?
  • What options are available for funding water system improvements?
  • What effect would the bond have on other critical public services and projects funded by the state?
  • How are the water needs of disadvantaged communities addressed by the bond?

The Institute has also published three major Information Sheets on the Bond:

The Institute takes no formal position on the bond, but given the possibility that the bond will be pulled from the ballot and re-written, the Institute also offers a set of principles for writing a responsible and effective water bond. These principles, not followed when preparing Proposition 18, include:

  • A responsible bond relies less on the state’s beleaguered General Fund.
  • A responsible water bond ensures that publicly funded projects provide real public benefits.
  • A responsible water bond ensures that the needs of the most vulnerable stakeholders are prioritized.
  • A responsible water bond ensures that water resource management strategies are compared on an equal playing field.

We recommend that our Legislators and politicians take a look at the Pacific Institute analysis before deciding whether to pull the current bond off the Ballot, and if they do not, we recommend voters read these fact sheets before voting in November.

Dr. Gleick’s blog posts are provided in cooperation with the SFGate. Previous posts can be found here.

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