Public Embraces Water Bond at Ballot Box

California voters have approved Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond aimed at preparing the state for future droughts.  As of the morning of November 5, the California Secretary of State’s office reported that Prop 1 was leading 66.8% to 33.2%.  While the exact numbers could change somewhat as votes continue to be counted before the final reporting deadline of December 5, it is clear that the measure managed to secure a decisive victory.

The margin exceeded most, if not all, pre-election polling and analysis.  As the Journal of Water noted in its preview of the water bond, polls throughout the fall had shown support for the bond ranging from the low to high 50% range.  The last Field Poll before the election showed that 54% supported Prop 1, with 22% opposed and 24% undecided, indicating a comfortable if not overwhelming victory on the horizon.  However, it appears that undecided voters ultimately split evenly into the yes and no camps when they made their choices, giving the bond a big boost resulting in its significant margin of victory.  Since the conventional wisdom is that late undecided voters generally end up opposing spending measures, the late break in favor the bond speaks to its strong base of support.

The Stratecon Water Policy Marketplace, which ran a prediction market on the outcome of the Prop 1 election, reflected a late surge in favor of the bond.  Trading closed with the bond’s probability of passing at 57.5%.  The probability of success had traded below 50% until mid-September and hit a high of 57.9% on October 31. It appears that market was wary of Californians’ hesitance to authorize more bonds in the face of the state’s already-considerable debt burden, as Rodney Smith, Ph.D. argued in August on the Hydrowonk Blog.

Prop 1 was notable for the broad coalition that supported it, including Democrats and Republicans and agricultural, business, water industry, and some environmental groups.  Prop 1’s supporters ultimately spent nearly $13 million, with Governor Jerry Brown’s campaign committee alone contributing more than $3 million (split between Props 1 and 2).

Opposition to the bond was considerably less organized.   Prop 1’s opponents, like its supporters, came from a variety of backgrounds, including environmental and fishing organizations and some farms.  However, “No on Prop 1,” the only registered opposition committee, spent just $50,000.

In an election-eve recap, Smith credited the bond’s likely passage to the lopsided campaign plus two other factors: the drought, which has captured everyone’s attention, and the political leadership of Governor Brown, who prodded the Legislature to trim billions from the existing water bond proposal and secured near unanimity in the Capitol.

Given the multitude of issues on the ballot last night, the political establishment’s reaction to Prop 1’s passage is still in progress.  In remarks to the press following his reelection, Governor Jerry Brown said of the bond: “…water is life.  It’s the basis of our well-being and also our economy.  And so Proposition 1 is going to help us make some key investments to strengthen our water reliability and make sure those people in the Central Valley who have to use buckets to take a shower can get water out of their tap.”

Several of the largest interest groups in the pro-Prop 1 coalition have also weighed in on the news.  Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, called the bond’s approval “a victory for California,” adding that it “is part of an evolution in California water that opens the door to the most substantial progress in decades.”

California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said it was “gratifying to see the bond pass,” as “Californians came together to support investment in our water system, which has suffered from neglect through 30 years of population growth and redirected priorities.”

Speaking for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Ann Notthoff said, “California voters get it.  We need to act now to protect what precious little water we have and make smart investments to protect our water future.” She called attention to provisions promoting “Groundwater cleanup, water recycling and water use efficiency projects,” focusing on the provisions that are important to the environmental community, which had divided over whether to support Prop 1 because of the surface storage provisions.

While clearing the electoral hurdle was a major and necessary accomplishment, the policies laid out in Proposition 1 still have a long road ahead.  The ultimate success of the bond in reshaping California’s water future remains to be seen, but it moves into the next phase with an emphatic vote of confidence from the public as well as the state’s political leaders.

Written by Stratecon Staff