San Luis water reservoir
Depleted San Luis Reservoir, October 9, 2021 (Photo: The CA Water for Food and People Movement)

By Jenifer VanAlstein, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Jenifer Pitcher VanAlstein
Jenifer VanAlstein Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

A powerhouse volunteer steering committee has been gathering signatures as part of a grassroots ballot initiative that will hold California legislators accountable to the taxpayer. It is being called the Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022; but it’s not a bond, and it’s not a tax.

For over 50 years, Californians have passed water bonds with little to nothing to really show for it. Proponents of this initiative want to reprioritize money the state is already spending, money taxpayers are already paying. The Water Infrastructure Funding Act will dedicate 2% of the General Fund of every State Budget to water projects. That’s roughly $4 billion annually. This Constitutional Amendment, if passed, directs legislators to spend money according to taxpayer priorities. It is evident, based on California voting history, that voters prioritize water. Recent polling shows that 70% of voters currently would approve this measure. It is also written into the draft initiative that sites, Temperance Flat, and other water storage projects already approved through Prop 1 by the California Water Commission, will be prioritized to receive 100% funding. If approved, 5 million-acre-feet of new water will be delivered to cities and farms every year. That’s enough for 50 million people.

Once the state has a dedicated fund for water projects, we will have water abundance. Future projects with this funding include dams, desalination projects, potable reuse, underground storage, and water recycling. Future funding will also replace lead pipes in schools and aged sewage infrastructure. This will right the wrongs of the 2014 bond.

The committee behind this effort are currently gathering signatures to qualify the initiative for the November 2022 ballot. The goal is to collect 1.5 million signatures. They have written the language to include a clause that will protect the new law from legal challenges and included “build now” language requiring the administrative and judicial process to be streamlined. This will not limit environment reviews, but it will prohibit environmental groups from delaying projects and tying them up in court (which seems to be their go-to move). It will require mandatory annual audits of entities that receive funding from the state. The best part is that this initiative was written by water and law experts, not politicians.

California receives plenty of water from Mother Nature to sustain our every need. But we have not captured anywhere near what we could. For instance, we received 7.6 trillion gallons of water in the last storm but lacked the infrastructure and the laws to capture the rain. That’s enough water for 233 million people for a year.

“This will be a gift to the people of California: water abundance and a sustainable water supply,” said Kristi Diener, member of the steering committee and Executive Director of The CA Water for Food and People Movement. “It’s a water supply solution unlike we’ve ever seen before that benefits all water users: families, farmers, and fish. This will finally end California’s water wars.”

The CA Water for Food and People Movement is a Facebook group that started as an effort to clear up misinformation about agriculture and water use. Diener’s goal was to be a voice for farmers and fight for their social license to operate. Starting in 2015, the group aimed at bringing all water factions together: various coalitions, farm bureaus, etc. so information about water and agriculture is consistent.

For more information on the ballot initiative including the full text, synopsis from the Legislative Analyst Office, and list of bipartisan support, go to MoreWaterNow.com. Click on “volunteer” to find a place where you can sign the petition, donate, or contribute by volunteering to collect signatures. Information can also be found on Twitter and Facebook by searching “More Water Now.”

This is a simple, common-sense solution that almost sounds too easy to fix a decades-old problem. Government budgets are full of dedicated funds. If passed, this will show that Californians have decided dedicating funding to a sustainable water supply is a priority.