The state has neglected its water infrastructure for decades and this initiative would redirect spending to construct water supply projects.
By Shawn Dewane, Edward Ring, Stephen Sheldon, Geoffrey Vanden Heuvel, and Wayne Western Jr.
Re “California should create more water – much more“; Commentary, Oct. 28, 2021
There is an answer to Jim Wunderman’s position that “state and federal governments should commit to creating 1.75 million acre feet – about 25% of California’s current urban water use – of new water from desalination and wastewater recycling by the end of this decade”: the Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022, a constitutional initiative proposed for the November 2022 state ballot.
This initiative, submitted in August, has been analyzed by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which predicted “increased state spending on water supply projects and potentially less funding available for other state activities.” Notwithstanding the multibillion-budget surplus California’s Legislature currently enjoys, this redirecting of spending for water projects is what the initiative proponents intend. The state of California has neglected its water infrastructure for decades.
This initiative requires 2% of the state’s general fund be used to construct new water supply projects, and it doesn’t sunset until new projects add 5 million acre feet per year to the state’s water supply. That would be about 2 million acre feet coming from recycling and desalination, another 1 million from conservation programs, and the rest from runoff capture into off-stream reservoirs and aquifers. It also revises the California Environmental Quality Act and the Coastal Act to streamline project approval.
Instead of identifying specific projects for funding, this initiative carefully defines eligible projects to include everything that would produce more water, from conservation and water recycling, aquifer recharge, new reservoirs and aqueduct restoration to runoff capture and brackish/ocean water desalination. It also funds remediation projects, such as replacing the pipes in public schools in Los Angeles.
The initiative is attracting broad based and bipartisan support. Some of the opponents that have already emerged apparently have not read the measure, because they’re criticizing it for not funding projects which in fact it will fund.
This initiative aims to replace water scarcity with sustainable water abundance. Its benefits translate not only into more water, and hence more options to maintain and improve ecosystems throughout the state, but also an economic boom. Lower prices for water will translate into more affordable food, affordable water for every industry reliant on water, widely available water supplies to enable more home construction, and the creation of tens of thousands of high-paying construction jobs.
Shawn Dewane is vice president of the Mesa Water District.
Edward Ring is co-founder of the California Policy Center.
Stephen Sheldon is president of the Orange County Water District.
Geoffrey Vanden Heuvel is director of regulatory and economic affairs for the California Milk Producers Council.
Wayne Western Jr. is board director of the California Farm Water Coalition.