No on Prop. 1: It’s a bad deal for taxpayers

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Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond, gathered the reluctant hold-your-nose support of The Press Democrat editorial board. But you should vote no on Proposition 1. Here’s why:

Proposition 1 is not a solution to our water shortages or drought. But it does burden us with $14.4 billion of real debt obligations including interest — $360 million per year for 40 years. That’s paid with general fund money that could be invested in other priorities such as education, health care, parks, public safety and transportation. With a taxpayer investment like that, we have a right to expect results; instead, Proposition 1 squanders billions on corporate benefits.

After taxpayers spend $2.7 billion on new dams, that water would be used to feed the thirst of wealthy agricultural industries in the Central Valley. They want more water to grow water-intensive crops such as almonds, pistachios, alfalfa and cotton destined for the world market.

What’s more, the reservoirs would take at least 10-15 years to build, assuming they are ever fully funded. There’s no short-term relief or “new water” made possible by Proposition 1. In fact, the Sacramento Bee reported in June that raising Shasta Dam and building the Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River and Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento River watershed would increase the state’s water supply by only 1 percent (316,000 acre-feet).

Most of the water that would be stored in one of the reservoirs would be taken from Sacramento and American River flows now reaching the Delta for fish and recreation. Water from Northern California watersheds would forever be taken for Southern California’s powerful interests to the detriment of hard work that’s been done to restore their health and fisheries and local jobs. The San Francisco Delta would continue to be over-pumped under Proposition 1, not healed.

Adding insult to injury, the state could use $500 million to $900 million included in Proposition 1 for “environmental water flows” to pay for publicly owned water to pump into the Bay Delta. But once that water is in the delta, the same legal loophole that makes it possible to over-pump the delta in the first place allows water hogs like the Westlands Water District and Kern County Water Agency to pump that same water to the San Joaquin Valley and sell it at subsidized rates to those very corporate farmers who want the new dams. That’s public money for private interests, and that’s not right.

With half of Proposition 1 going directly to benefit powerful corporate interests that represent a miniscule part of California’s population, the rest of us are left to haggle over what remains.

Drought relief? Not in Proposition 1. There’s precious little here to address life-or-death priorities such as fixing crumbling water infrastructure, improving water use efficiency through conservation and recycling, cleaning up groundwater and ensuring safe drinking water for all. Nor does Proposition 1 help correct a century of over-appropriation of California’s waters that contributes to over-drafting groundwater.

Proposition 1 resurrects the worst parts of the last 100 years of public water and environmental policy. It won’t get us out of drought shortages. Without the respect and best management practices for complex river systems incorporated within good 21st century water policies, we will continue to exploit our increasingly scarce water and damaged watersheds. That is destructive to our economy, residents and businesses and California’s wonderful natural resources and fisheries.

We can do much better than Proposition 1. Demand forward-looking water solutions that help Californians rather than protecting entrenched wealthy interests and outmoded water and fisheries management. Vote no on Proposition 1.

Jane Nielson, a resident of Sebastopol, is on the board of directors of Sonoma County Conservation Action. Sandra Lupien is western region communications manager for Food & Water Watch.

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