Should State Earmark Billions for Water Projects Every Year? Voters Could Decide in 2022
A proposed ballot measure aims to increase spending for California’s storage and supply of clean, safe drinking water.
The proposed Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022 would allocate 2% of the state’s general fund every year to invest in California’s sustainable water supply without increasing state taxes.
California voters could see the proposed measure on the ballot as soon as the November elections in 2022.
California’s general fund for 2021-22 totals $196 billion. Thus, if the act were in place, it would set aside about $4 billion annually for sustainable water supply efforts. And that funding could be leveraged to attract dollars from the federal government or be combined with state water proposition funds that are unappropriated.
Bipartisan Initiative Wouldn’t Raise Taxes
Water in California is one of the few issues that periodically bring members of different parties together. And, that is the case with this proposal.
Leading the effort to pass the state Constitutional amendment is Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Visalia). Earlier this summer he drafted a letter that received the support of 27 lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike.
“We, the undersigned members of the California State Legislature, pledge our support to the ‘Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022,’ a citizens’ constitutional amendment,” stated the letter.
In a statement early last year, Mathis stated that it saddened him to see a state like California, with one of the largest economies in the world, experience worse water conditions than the war zones where he was deployed.
“To me, water is the most basic human need and it sickens me that California is willing to tax the already hurting working families for ‘Clean’ drinking water,” said Mathis. “My bipartisan plan, ACA 3, will provide more monies than any tax could ever generate and guarantee clean, safe, and affordable drinking water for generation of Californians to come.”
How Would the Act Help Water Infrastructure Projects?
Funding held in a water trust fund account could be used for projects. The goal: create at least 5 million more acre-feet of annual water supply capacity for farms and cities each year.
This measure is designed to propel forward other approved state propositions that have not yet taken off. For example, Prop. 1 approved by state voters in 2014 would help unlock hundreds of millions of dollars that were meant to fund environmental projects but can’t be released until water storage projects are fully funded and under construction.
This would be pivotal for repairs on major water conveyance projects involving the California Aqueduct, the Friant-Kern Canal, and the Delta-Mendota Canal. Conceivably, the act’s approval could bring the construction of a massive reservoir at Temperance Flat above Friant Dam back into play.
The measure would pay for desalination, underground water storage, water recycling for potable use standards, and ensure the supply of clean and safe drinking water for all households and businesses.
Additionally, it would safeguard irrigation water for farmers along with protecting the environment through sustainable maintenance that would keep state aquifers healthy and clean.
Lastly, the act would provide funding to defend against lawsuits that often times delay water projects or stop them in their tracks.
California’s Failure to Invest in Water Infrastructure Projects
The state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment states that nearly one million Californians lack access to clean water, and climate change is exacerbating the availability of affordable good quality water, especially to disadvantaged communities.
A 2021 report published by the state’s Water Resources Control Board, discovered that 620 public water systems and 80,000 domestic wells are at risk of failing to provide affordable and uncontaminated water. To solve this problem, the state would need $4.7 billion in new funding.
Passed into law in 2012, Assembly Bill 685 declares that every person in the state has a right to clean, safe, and affordable drinking water and in 2019, Gov. Newsom signed SB 200 that provides funding seeking to ensure safe drinking water in every California community.
Biden’s Infrastructure Bill Could Provide Additional Funding
California is not the only state that has failing infrastructure in serious need of investment. The country’s water systems are aging and in need of repairs.
A 2021 report card by the American Society of Civil Engineers graded American infrastructure with a C grade. In the report, it stated that investment by the federal government for water resources declined substantially from 63% of all capital spending in 1977 to just 9% in 2017.
To make matters worse, while investment has gone down, maintenance costs keep increasing and recently reached their highest peak in 2017.
The lack of funding for the nation’s water resource projects has added to the failure of America’s water system projects.
Data spanning 34 years from a 2018 study found that up to 10% of community water systems serving as many as 45 million people in the U.S often violate health-based regulations.
Biden’s proposed combined $4.5 trillion infrastructure aims to fix some of these problems by setting aside $111 billion for the nation’s water infrastructure and provide $56 billion in grants and low-cost flexible loans to states, tribes, and territories that would help the most disadvantaged communities.