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Drought Watch: Support for the Water Bond

This is part of a continuing series on the impact of the drought.

With the effects of the drought intensifying, the water bond is at the top of the legislature’s to-do list. Unless an agreement is reached on a new version, the $11.1 billion bond built in 2009 will go before voters this November. This year we have seen a range of proposals for a smaller water bond—including one by Governor Brown and one by Senate Republicans that designates more funding for storage than the governor’s. The debate continues.

Getting approval by two-thirds of both houses of the legislature is just the first step. The next hurdle is voter approval. According to the July PPIC statewide survey, 51 percent of likely voters said they would vote yes on the current $11.1 billion bond, with support increasing to 59 percent if the bond amount were smaller. This is higher than in March 2013, when only 42 percent of likely voters said they would vote yes on the $11.1 billion bond, and 55 percent supporting a smaller bond.

While the size of this bond may be important for voter approval, the central policy debate is about how the money should be allocated. Most funding for California’s water system comes from local water bills and taxes, but a new state water bond could help close critical funding gaps facing some parts of the water sector. The PPIC report Paying for Water in California highlighted the lack of sustainable and reliable funding for drinking water quality in small systems, flood protection, stormwater management, aquatic ecosystem management, and integrated water management.

Even if the legislature and the voting public do come together to approve a new bond, there is still work to be done to ensure sustainable funding for our water system. A bond can be expected to provide about $1 billion per year in new funds, leaving a $1 to $2 billion annual funding gap for critical water services. To close this gap, Californians will need to go beyond bonds and approve a broader mix of revenues, such as water use surcharges or state sales tax increases.

News and analysis of California policy issues from PPIC

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