Clarity Blog

Clarity Blog

The Water Bond – Now What?

It was the strangest sort of victory.

Last night’s last-hour squeaker of a vote to delay Proposition 18, the $11 billion California water bond, could be seen as an admission of defeat … well, future defeat anyway.  Had there been confidence campaign funds would roll in and the California electorate would vote “yes” in droves, Sacramento would have been busy with other things yesterday.  Important stuff no doubt, like regulating pet insurance.

But the vote was also a victory, because those who prefer the status quo – an odd mix of environmentalists, Delta residents and fiscal conservatives – were geared up to keep the bond on the November ballot, because they sensed they might be able to stop the state’s biggest step forward on water resource management in decades … if they could force the vote in year when Californians are (finally!) getting concerned about the state’s finances.

So, 2012 now will be the year of the water bond.  In California politics, 2012 is about as far in the future as white-wigged Whigs are in the past.  Who knows what mischief will transpire between now and then?  Well, we have a few ideas:

  • Chances are very good that at least one citizen initiative countering the bond will be on the ballot.  It will likely be a greener alternative, but it could also be a more gung-ho one, calling for the fast-tracked construction of more storage and a new  canal. It just depends on who raises enough money to send out the signature-gathering armies.
  • Forces will be tearing at the water bond itself.  Expect bills by the boatload in the next legislative sessions, each pushing one constituency’s position forward and another’s back.  So far, the rather miraculous coalition supporting the bond has held together, but can it last two more years?
  • Expect wet winters … or dry ones. Who knows? Either way, weather will influence the electorate.
  • And oh yeah, expect there to be a presidential race on the 2012 ballot, with all the attention and emotion it will bring.

We are supporters of the bond.  We think “meaty” describes it much better than “porky,” particularly if it’s compared to previous water bonds. We think the state’s water infrastructure has deteriorated to the point where big steps are needed.  We understand that in California, you’re not going to be able to get anything through the legislature that solves everything and does it without some sweeteners thrown in and some necessities thrown out.

In short, we’re willing to settle for the miraculous, even if it’s not the perfect.

Restore the Delta, a rabidly anti-bond group that puts the Delta “sense of place” above the state’s economic vitality, just said, “The problems with the bond will only grow more glaring in time.”

That’s what they fervently hope. Supporters of the bond need to counter this by showing – clearly, conclusively and forcefully – that it’s the problems with the state’s water infrastructure, not the problems with the bond, that are growing more glaring, and at an alarming rate of speed.

The recent State Water Resources Control Board staff report calling for an end-of-life-as-we-know-it level of cuts in water exports from the Delta, bad as it is, is a step in that direction.  Here’s hoping the water bond campaign has the resources, courage and capability to build a solid messaging lead in the next two years, and that the best bond wins.

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