Just in case you were wondering, water issues were top of mind during the current session of the California Legislature with 615 different bills introduced…and not one of them ordered the state to build new dams to increase our water storage capacity during the second major drought since 2014.
Why 2014? That was the year 70 percent of California voters approved The Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 (Proposition 1) guaranteeing $7.5 billion to alleviate California’s water woes.
Storage facilities like dams were the largest portion of the bond, which also included projects such as water recycling, groundwater sustainability, and drinking water safety. A total of $2.7 billion were dedicated to the construction of reservoirs to capture excess water runoff during winters.
Since the state has failed to deliver these voter-approved efforts, a new initiative the Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022 was circulated to force the Legislature to set aside two percent of the General Fund for new water projects. It died in February when supporters got fewer than 100,000 of the required 997,132 signatures to qualify for the November general election.
The supporters of the measure, largely farmers from the Central Valley and desalination proponents from Huntington Beach, say they may be down, but they aren’t out. They promise to retool the plan and try again for 2024. With the water cutbacks hitting from local, state, and federal agencies, perhaps the people will be willing to go bat at the ballot box one more time.
Meanwhile, the Newsom administration is working a different angle, pushing the go button on Prop. 1 for seven different water storage projects. They include expanding the Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County, creating a new storage lake near Pacheco Pass in Santa Clara County, and resurrecting the long-delayed Sites Reservoir in Colusa County along with four new groundwater “banks” scattered across the state. Don’t hold your breath about any of this coming to fruition—the projects must get permits with the attendant opposition from the every-present enviro groups at every stage in the process. If that blocking effort fails, the project proponents must meet state matching fund targets before a shovel hits the dirt. They think they have the money now, but with the current shift in capital markets there are no guarantees for a few years into the future.
As to the 615 bills tumbling around in Sacramento, we’re still tracking.
By Dave Sorem, P.E. ECA Government Affairs Chairman email: [email protected]