Will Funding for New Water Storage Be Hijacked at the Last Minute?
The effort to build more water storage in California just hit another setback.
The bureaucrats at the California Water Commission just released their scorecards for 11 proposed water projects from around the state.
Their scorecard – which supposedly ranks their “public benefit” to California taxpayers – ranked two critical statewide water storage projects very low.
According to The Fresno Bee, the proposed Temperance Flat dam project near Fresno earned a zero score. Another important project, the shovel-ready Sites Reservoir project in Northern California, also received a low score. Temperance Flat would generate enough water storage to provide water for 2.6 million Californians for a year, while Sites would provide enough water storage for 3.6 million people.
It should come as no surprise that unelected state bureaucrats act without accountability to taxpayers. This happens all the time.
But throwing a wrench in the proposed funding for these two projects – potentially placing their construction in jeopardy – goes completely against the will of the voters.
California has neglected its water infrastructure for too long. We simply don’t have enough water storage capacity in the rainier parts of the state to capture this water for the rest of the state.
Year after year, water bond proposals were bogged down at the Capitol not over partisanship, but over geographical differences. How you think about water in Sacramento is very different than how you think about water in Chico, Stockton, Fresno, Bakersfield, or across Southern California.
Finally – thanks to the leadership of then-Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway (my former boss), Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, and others – a breakthrough occurred in 2014. Agreement was reached on a $7.5 billion water bond proposal.
As part of the agreement, Conway and others made clear that the water bond must fund at least two large surface storage projects. That’s why the final bond earmarks $2.7 billion for above-ground storage, a figure which was calculated to ensure that the Sites and Temperance Flat projects would be able to secure funding to finance each respective project.
This bipartisan bond was enacted with 77 votes in the Assembly. It was later overwhelmingly approved by state voters, who made a strong statement that they wanted to fund new above-ground water storage. Meanwhile, the funding has been stuck in neutral for more than 3 years now and this latest funding hiccup could jeopardize these projects entirely.
When the members of the California Water Commission take up this matter to decide which projects are funded later this year, they would be wise to remember the will of the Legislature and the voters and not take a misguided course that would threaten California’s future health and economic vitality.
Tim Anaya is communications director for the Pacific Research Institute.