California has nine bills in play to replace the $11.14 billion water bond on California’s November ballot. The bills vary wildly in the size of a replacement water bond and are sitting in varying stages of the legislative process.
Up first is AB 1331, which is furthest along in the legislative process—it has been passed by the Assembly (the house of origin) and by two policy committees in the Senate and is now before the Senate Government and Finance Committee.
AB 1331, sponsored by Assemblymember Anthony Rendon (D–Lakewood), Chair of the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, would replace the existing bond with one for $8 billion. The bill was amended in early March from $6.5 billion.
Rendon proudly maintains that the bill contains no earmarks—and despite an amendment passed by the Senate Natural Resources Committee to remove the regional approach to allocating certain funding, he still is working to get the bill passed.
AB 1331 is supported by Professional Engineers in California Government, who join a long list of previously registered supporters in various sectors. Opposition has been registered by the Association of California Water Agencies.
Three bills met a major milestone on April 29, when they were passed by the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks & Wildlife.
AB 2686, sponsored by Assemblymember Henry Perea (D–Fresno), would repeal the existing $11.14 billion bond and would authorize issuing a bond for “an unspecified amount,” which according the committee analysis would be at least $9.25 billion—the amount specified in an earlier version of the bill. Because of the $9.25 billion minimum, AB 2686, which was amended by the committee to include funding for conservancies, urban waterways and groundwater cleanup, is the largest of the proposals to replace the $11.14 billion water bond.
The bill enjoys a broad coalition of support, including the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), the Western Growers Association, the California State Council of Laborers, and a number of agricultural and municipal water districts. Supporters argue that the severe drought has produced an urgency in the need for a comprehensive water bond and that a water bond is necessary to meet the state’s coequal goals of water supply reliability and Delta ecosystem protection, restoration and enhancement. They further argue that this bill:
- Recognizes water quality as a priority and acknowledges that disadvantaged communities need funding to secure safe drinking water
- Has an appropriate level of funding for Delta sustainability, storage and conservation, and water recycling
- Includes funding needed for watershed protection
- Has a distinct chapter for groundwater cleanup
- Has no earmarks for specific projects
Opposition has been registered by a few environmental groups— Clean Water Action, Natural Resources Defense Council, Planning and Conservation League, and Sierra Club California—who argue that funding is disproportionately assigned to new projects and storage over water use efficiency, recycling and other regional water supply projects, and provisions about the public acquisition of water for environmental purposes appear to be linked to Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
AB 2043, co-sponsored by Assemblymembers Frank Bigelow (R–O’Neals) and Connie Conway (R–Tulare), would reduce the current bond to $7.935 billion.
Arguments in favor of AB 2043 are presented by the bill authors who maintain that it is an attempt to the keep the policy language of the current water bond, while getting rid of earmarks and, thereby reducing the overall size. Further, it would “fund projects to improve California’s water infrastructure, specifically to provide competitive funding for critical water storage, groundwater, Delta restoration, water quality, and drought relief projects statewide.”
The San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) is the only registered supported, but will offer support only if certain amendments are made. SDCWA’s proposed amendments include increasing funding for regional water management to a “robust” level and providing funding for surface water storage under the section on statewide water system operation improvements.
AB 2043 is opposed by Clean Water Action, Planning and Conservation League, and Sierra Club, who again argue that there is a disproportionate level of funding for storage projects over water use efficiency, water recycling and other integrated water management projects. In addition, it would allow for bond proceeds to pay for mitigation for new Delta conveyance and would provide no funding for watershed restoration, except in the Delta.
AB 2554, sponsored by Assemblymember Anthony Rendon (D–Lakewood), Chair of the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, would reduce the current bond to $8.5 billion.
Rendon argues that AB 2554 came out of an open and transparent process and would reduce the total bond amount, follow a comprehensive regional approach to providing funding to protect rivers and coastal watersheds, which assures the each regional gets funding for those activities, and provides money for safe drinking water and groundwater cleanup. According to Rendon it is imperative that the legislature “place a water bond measure that voters can approve on the November 2014 ballot, to replace the ‘pork-laden’ water bond currently on that ballot.” As a result, he has been careful to craft this bill in way that avoid the criticisms of the current water bond.
AB 2554 has no registered support and is opposed by the Association of California Water Agencies, who argue that it eliminates a $2.25 billion funding level for Delta sustainability that is necessary for meeting the coequal goals of water supply reliability and Delta ecosystem protection, restoration and enhancement; needs more funding for groundwater cleanup; and has policy issues related to water acquisition funding and storage.
Another bill was recently amended by a Senate committee.
SB 1250, sponsored by Senator Hueso (D–San Diego), would reduce the current bond to $10.15 billion. The bill was originally introduced in February with placeholder-type language simply declaring the legislature’s intent to pass a bill reducing the current bond. An amendment on April 21, substantively altered the bill and would have reduced the current bond to $9.45 billion—while a subsequent amendment on May 7 changed it to $10.15 billion, making it the largest water bond bill under consideration.
According to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, the bill’s size begs the questions of where to trim—i.e. what funding categories would be reduced or eliminated if the bill was deemed too large. The committee also raised a number of other questions, including one about geographic equity—pointing out that the bill heavily favors supporting the Delta and increasing storage, both of which benefit the Central Valley Project and State Water Project contractors, but leave out the Central and North Coasts and most of the Bay Area.
The bill has wide support from M&I and agricultural water users. It is opposed by the environmental groups Clean Water Action, Natural Resources Defense Council, Planning and Conservation League, and Sierra Club California.
The remaining three bills appear have not been acted upon recently.
SB 848, sponsored by Senator Wolk (D–Davis), would reduce the current bond to $6.825 billion and would authorize the legislature to appropriate $3.175 billion in funds from previous bonds, bring the total price tag to $10 billion.
This bill has been passed by the Senate Committees on Environmental Quality and Government and Finance, but because it would authorize appropriations from previous bonds, the bill must be considered by the Appropriations Committee. It is currently sitting in the Appropriation suspense file—meaning it is on hold with all other appropriations bills until the committee reviews the budget bill.
SB 848 has wide support from the environmental community and Delta-area governments. Opposition is coming primarily from municipal and agricultural water users.
SB 1370, sponsored by freshman Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), would reduce the current water bond to $6.26 billion, which was increased from $5.1 billion thanks to an amendment made in March. The Senate Committee on Natural Resources heard testimony on the bill on April 8, but no further action has been taken.
No support nor opposition has been registered for SB 1370.
AB 1445, sponsored by Assemblyman Logue (R–Chico), would reduce the current bond to $5.8 billion. Assemblyman Logue is described as “staunch opponent of high taxation and government waste,” and his bill currently has the small price tag. It has just two chapters allocating the funds—$4.8 billion would be allocated to water infrastructure, and $1 billion would be allocated to water quality and safe drinking water.
AB 1445 has not been acted upon since the middle of February.
The ninth water bond bill, SB 927, sponsored by Senator Cannella (R–Ceres), would reduce the current bond to $9.217 billion. The bill was defeated by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water on April 22, but reconsideration has been granted.
SB 927 is supported by the Northern California Water Association—and both the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the San Diego County Water Authority have registered support if certain amendments are made. No opposition has been registered.
To successfully replace the current bond, a new water bond bill must pass through the legislature and be signed by the governor by June 26.
Written by Marta Weismann