By WAYNE LUSVARDI
Remember the $11.1 billion water bond that was supposed to be Proposition 18 on the November 12, 2010 ballot? Polling showed it was losing badly, so then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger poured it down the drain.
Prop. 18 now has gurgled back up through the sewer pipes and is flooding into Californians’ homes. “Gov. Brown and the legislature need to trim the fat from the water bond and serve it to voters,” urges Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton.
But there are much bigger problems with the proposed $11.1 billion water bond than the $2 billion in political pork larded into the initiative, which now will be on the November 2012 ballot and also will be called Prop. 18
First, the so-called water bond is falsely advertised by the media as solely a general obligation bond. If that is all it was, it could conceivably be authorized without a vote of the electorate and issued by the California Industrial Development Financing Advisory Commission and underwritten by higher statewide water rates.
The proposed consolidated water bond is a radical change to the governance structure of water in the entire state. Effectively, all water agencies and municipal water departments in the state, including the state Department of Water Resources, would be put under a super-powered water entity formed by the Legislature called the Delta Stewardship Council, which is already in place but without the powers proposed in the water bond.
Delta Stewardship Council as Super Agency
The consolidated water bond would empower the existing Delta Stewardship Council that has been created by the legislature to be able to reduce Southern California’s existing maximum annual entitlement of two million acre feet of water from the state Water Project. According to knowledgeable water experts, under the Stewardship Council’s mandate to balance the “co-equal” goals of “Delta restoration and water supply reliability,” Southern California’s water allocation under the state Water Contract could be reduced to 25 percent — 500,000 acre-feet of water — of its existing entitlement
The council would have veto powers over the building of any future reservoirs and canals by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the state Department of Water Resources, Westland Water District, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and other water districts. All future water infrastructure projects statewide would have to be vetted through the Delta Stewardship Council and its tentacle subsidiaries.
Delta Council Would Be New Coastal Commission
The seven-member Sacramento Delta Stewardship Council would have land use police powers — overlay zoning powers — over at least seven cities in the Bay-Delta area: Pittsburg, Sacramento, Stockton, Tracy, Oakley, Isleton, Tracy and Rio Vista. It would hold such powers over five unincorporated areas: West Sacramento, Collinsville, Locke, Ryde and Bird’s Landing, as well as over a vast additional expanse of cities and farmlands that drain water and wastewater into the Delta. The Stewardship Council would become the Coastal Commission of the Bay Delta area, with wide powers to usurp land-use decisions.
Essentially, what would be at the top of the bureaucratic water pyramid in California would be a powerful Delta wildlife sewer district, but no one would be able to get away with calling it that.
A whole new state entity, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, would also be created under the Natural Resources Agency to implement the ecosystem restoration of the Delta. A Delta Independent Science Board would additionally be created to advise the Conservancy and Stewardship Council. And a Delta Watermaster’s office would be created and funded to assure water quality enforcement. All these new entities would be linked with a larger web of existing committees and state agencies.
Power to Northern Cal, Bond Payments to Southern Cal
Of the $11.1 billion bond, $3 billion is slated for reservoir projects whose location will be determined by the California Water Commission, of which eight of its nine members are currently from Central and Northern California. However, Southern California water ratepayers would pay two-thirds of the bond. If the representation of the commission were based on a pro rata share of population, it is doubtful Northern Californians would vote for it. The water bond does not assure that any potential reservoir site would clear the environmental permitting process.
This package of bills calls for a 20 percent reduction in baseline daily per capita water use by the year 2020. It also calls for the volume of agricultural water to be measured for the first time.
Perhaps of most interest to the average person, it establishes a target of 55 gallons per capita daily for residential indoor water use. Taking a shower can use 25 gallons alone.
The water bill package gives water agencies four options for complying with conservation goals:
1. 20 percent reduction in daily use;
2. 20 percent reduction in regional imports;
3. Utilize performance standards for commercial, industrial and institutional users;
4. A method to be developed by DWR.
Processed water from recycling would not be subject to conservation mandates. The problem with conservation is that it works on the state level by eliminating the need for new costly and environmentally damaging dams and canals. But on the local level, conservation only depletes local groundwater basins by not sufficiently replenishing them, resulting in more reliance on imported water supplies.
There is little mention that the water bond mandates $5 billion in additional matching-fund requirements to be imposed on regional and local water districts, raising the effective cost of the bond to $16.1 billion. With interest, the bond would cost $34.1 billion. That means the putative $11.1 billion cost would triple. Local water agencies taking water-bond monies for local water projects would have to come up with matching funds during a protracted economic recession.
Eclipse of Democracy
Once the Delta Stewardship Council is empowered under the water bond, most voters across the state will not have a voting representative on the Stewardship Council, raising issues of taxation without representation. If passed by the voters, would any fees, fines or taxes have to comply with the supermajority vote requirement of Proposition 26? Whatever form of governance of water is selected — democratic or totalitarian — it may form the template for all other forms of government in California.
Given all of the above, the $2 billion in political pork is perhaps the least of the problematic facets of the state water bond on the 2012 ballot. Neither the media nor the already formed Delta Stewardship Council are doing a good job in educating the electorate about the governance issues involved in the water bond.
The new California Forward project, run by political elites to bring about government reform, hasn’t even addressed the issue of good water governance. Neither has the Little Hoover Commission registered an opinion on the organizational and governance aspects of the water bond.
If the bond is passed, it is likely the governing of California’s water system will resemble more that of the Netherlands or perhaps even Stalinist Russia than the water system of water baron William Mulholland or even 1960s Gov. Pat Brown, the infrastructure-building father of the current governor, Jerry “Era of Limits” Brown. The proposed water bond will shift power in California from the people to an unelected bureaucracy.