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By Jerry Meral, Special to CALmatters

Initiatives happen when the Legislature refuses to respond to an important public issue.

No issue is more important than water. It is our state’s lifeblood. However, the Legislature has refused to place a serious water bond on the ballot for more than four years, even as the Colorado River is drying up, we are draining our underground water supplies, and most of the last 10 years have been dry.

The desire of nonprofit organizations and private donors to respond to these problems makes solutions possible. That’s why Proposition 3 is so important.

Proposition 3 will provide clean, safe and reliable water for millions of Californians, and safe drinking water for people who are drinking contaminated water in disadvantaged communities.  It will prepare us for the next drought, fund fire recovery in damaged watersheds, and it will help restore fish and wildlife.  It is completely in the public interest.

Proposition 3 was designed to fulfill the goals of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Water Action Plan.  It is the result of an open, public process of consultation with hundreds of water districts and agencies, conservation and environmental justice organizations, and farmers and their organizations.  The consultation list included more than 300 groups.  The recommendations of these groups were accepted regardless of whether they had any potential to contribute to the campaign.

It took more than a year to draft Proposition 3. The goal was to respond to the water needs of the state: cities, farms, fish, and wildlife.  Representatives of organizations who helped draft the initiative expressed tentative support for it. But because of time pressure to file the initiative, I took the step of filing it before all the financial commitments were made.

After the initiative was submitted, the Natural Heritage Institute made a concerted and successful effort to talk to potential donors, asking them to commit sufficient funding to at least get the measure on the ballot.

At that point, it was too late to make modifications to the text even when they were sought, since that would delay the measure so much that it could not qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.

This process is in marked contrast to the usual method of funding initiatives.  In almost all other cases, the text is developed in specific discussions with donors, so that the donors are willing to make financial commitments before the initiative is finalized and filed with the Attorney General.

Proposition 3 is an example of how the initiative process ought to work. It was designed to meet specific state needs that the Legislature has not funded. Its design was sufficiently attractive to donors, who eventually provided the funds needed to place it on the ballot.

The beneficiaries will be Californians who will have safe drinking water, a more secure water supply, continued agricultural productivity, and more vibrant fish and wildlife populations.


Jerry Meral is director of the director of the California Water Program of the Natural Heritage Institute and is the lead proponent of Proposition 3, [email protected] He wrote this commentary for CALmatters.