The drought has focused attention on water supply and highlights the crucial role of funding in supporting our water system, said Ellen Hanak, PPIC senior fellow, at a half-day conference PPIC hosted last week at the Sacramento Convention Center. The conference focused on the issues highlighted in the PPIC report Paying for Water, which pinpoints funding gaps in five key areas of water management. Hanak opened the conference with a presentation of her report, starting with an overview of how California pays for water. She noted that state general obligation bonds make up just a small part of the $30 billion spent annually on the water system.Most funding, about 85 percent, comes from local sources—rates, fees, and taxes. However, legal obstacles make it difficult for local agencies to raise money. Hanak then summarized the areas in which the state is failing to deliver the level of services California residents expect. She closed with a roadmap of recommendations for funding reform.
In the first panel discussion, experts from local water agencies and the governor’s office took up the issue of “fiscal orphans” for which there is no clear revenue stream—areas such as flood control, stormwater, and safe drinking water for small, disadvantaged communities. panelists talked about their challenges and successes in building better integrated systems in these orphan areas.
The second panel tackled a series of tough questions: How can the state partner with local and regional agencies to improve water management? What has the state done well and what can it do differently? Panelists with both state and local perspectives joined this lively discussion.
The third panel considered some of the legal challenges posed by Propositions 218 and 26. Panelists said these constitutional amendments have pushed water authorities to be more transparent in their use of taxpayer funds. But the measures and the courts’ interpretations of them have also made it more difficult to fund water solutions.