Voters rejected Proposition 3, “Californians for Safe Drinking Water and a Clean and Reliable Water Supply,” at the ballot box on Wednesday. The $8.8 billion general obligation bond would have provided $200 million to restore San Francisco Bay wetlands, funded clean, safe drinking water in the Central Valley, and helped to extend water supplies through wastewater recycling, urban and ag conservation projects. It seemed to have something for everyone, so why didn't it pass? A few thoughts:
- Distaste for "pay to play": Voters didn’t like the earmarked funds for specific improvements that would benefit the business groups who financed the bill. Although proponents asserted that every part of the state would benefit from the bond, over $1.2 billion of the bond was dedicated to funding improvements in 4 specific regions: San Joaquin Valley between Fresno and Bakerfield, San Francisco Bay, Oroville Dam, and Napa and Solano counties. And, in fact these areas were some of the only counties where the proposition passed (see www.mercurynews.com/2018/11/08/election-2018-heres-how-california-counties-voted-in-the-midterms/).
- Water Bond fatigue: the third related general obligation bond in 5 years; voters may have grown tired, for now, of feeling like they were throwing money at the problem. And with memories of the recent historic drought fading, the issue took a back seat to the many other measures on the ballot, including homelessness and highways.
- Too ambitious: even Prop. 1, which passed in 2014 after eight years without a water bond, was only $7.5 billion. The sizeable price tag may have put off voters, particularly on top of the other points above.
If California sinks back into drought, voter interest could be piqued once again. But it will probably take a few years before voters are ready for another water bond. A measure introduced by the Legislature with fewer specific earmarks could receive a more favorable response if the timing is right.
California needs to invest substantial funds into water infrastructure improvements to improve drinking water quality, restore habitat, and develop alternative water supply sources like rainwater capture and advanced treatment. These needs cannot be resolved entirely at the local level, so at some point there will be another water bond on the ballot.