Implementing Water Infrastructure Improvements Via Proposition 1 in California

During his recent State of the Union address, President Trump called on Congress to implement major infrastructure improvements in the United States. California voters have already initiated efforts to upgrade and expand some key water quality infrastructure assets. By a margin of nearly 67% to 33% the public approved Proposition 1 in 2014.

About Proposition 1

The ballot measure empowered the state government to expend some $7.12 billion through general bonds in order to improve California's water infrastructure. It requires some projects to furnish matching funds from non-California sources. Now an interesting issues has arisen: does the state government expect to wait to implement the proposition until the federal government agrees to pick up a major portion of this tab?

The California Water Commission appointed by Governor Brown carries the responsibility of implementing the legislation passed as a result of the passage of Prop 1. The proposition requires the improvement of a number of pressing water management infrastructure assets: it impacts projects involving water storage, drinking water protection, water system improvements, drought relief systems, wastewater treatment and watershed and ecosystem protection and conservation. The measure authorizes over $1 billion for projects designed to restore watersheds and protect ecosystems imperiled by severe droughts. It also dedicates $2.7 billion for projects involving dams, reservoirs and water storage. Recent forest fires in California have lent new urgency to these missions.

Expending Funds For Water Projects

Proposition 1 received the support of the National Resources Defense Council. It has garnered opposition from some environmental lobbyists. It replaced Proposition 43, a bill which would have raised $11.14 billion for water infrastructure improvements. Governor Brown called for the downsizing of Proposition 43, characterizing it as "a pork-laden water bill."

Recently, the California Water Commission displayed little interest in some 11 proposals submitted for water storage, dam, or reservoir infrastructure projects by California municipal water management and farm irrigation districts. Chairman Armando Quintero stated the Commissioners did indeed wish to expend the available funding. Yet so far applications have apparently failed to meet the test of sufficient "public benefits" to win support from the state commission. The agency's Executive Officer Joe Yun maintains all of the proposals overstate public benefits, and three of the measures entirely lack this attribute. The agency has construed Prop 1 as preventing the expenditure of state funds on projects which produce only local benefits.


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