Governor Brown signs tunnels-enabling water bond

Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation Wednesday evening to put a controversial $7.5 water bond before voters this November.

Dan Bacher, August 2014

The Legislature passed the water bond, strongly opposed by family farmers, Delta residents, Tribal leaders, fishing groups and majority of the state’s environmental groups, in spite of an intensive campaign to get key legislators to vote against it.

The water bond will facilitate the construction of the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history, the $67 billion peripheral tunnels, under the ironically named “Bay Delta Conservation Plan,” according to Delta advocates.

“Water is the lifeblood of any civilization and for California it’s the precondition of healthy rivers, valleys, farms and a strong economy,” gushed Governor Brown. “With this water bond, legislators from both parties have affirmed their faith in California’s future.”

The legislation signed by Governor Brown, AB 1471 by Assemblymember Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), replaces the current $11.1 billion water bond on the November ballot. The bipartisan legislation passed the Senate 37-0 and the Assembly 77-2.

The new bond includes $7.12 billion in new debt, plus the repurposing of existing unspent bond funds of $425 million for a total of $7.545 billion. None of the repurposed bond funds will be taken from existing projects. The measure will be Proposition 1 on the November ballot, according to a statement from the Governor’s Office.

“The bond provides for water use efficiency and recycling, groundwater cleanup and management and $2.7 billion for additional water storage,” the statement claimed. “It invests in safe drinking water, particularly in disadvantaged communities, and provides for watershed restoration and increased flows in some of California’s most important rivers and streams.”

Governor Brown also announced that he vetoed identical legislation, SB 866 by Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis).

(For full text of the bills, visit:

State Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) applauded the passage of legislation to replace the existing $11.14 billion water bond set for the November ballot with the $7.5 billion water bond. She claimed the bipartisan agreement, authored by herself and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), provides a “comprehensive approach to meeting the state’s future water needs, in addition to meeting urgent needs in all regions of the state.”

“This is a very different bond than the pork-laden one currently on the ballot, which helped some regions of this state, but hurt others,” she said. “This bond is good for the Delta and all of California, and it’s affordable. SB 866 not only meets the state’s greatest and most urgent water needs, it includes hard-won victories for the Delta including language to ensure this bond is BDCP neutral and includes no funding that can be used to pay for the Delta tunnels or tunnel mitigation projects.”

“Also included are requirements that Delta communities have a voice in decisions on projects in the Delta—as well as first-ever funding for the Delta Conservancy and the opportunity for the Conservancy to demonstrate that it can deliver on the important charge it was given in 2009,” Wolk added.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta Executive Director, disagreed that the bond is “tunnels neutral.” She responded to the passage of the bill by stating, “The passage of a water bond with BDCP funds for flows is unfortunate.”

“Instead of presenting a tunnels-neutral water bond, the governor has chosen to risk our water project bonds by tying his tunnels to it. There are so many projects we all can agree on. Leaving this section in the bill was a big mistake,” she emphasized.

“We urged the governor and legislature not to make this a referendum on the tunnels, which is a minor portion of the bond measure. We submitted this simple language that would have eliminated our opposition:

“No water purchased under this division can be used directly or indirectly for exports from the San Francisco Bay Delta.”

Barrigan-Parrilla said, “The fact that this language was rejected proves that the money will go for tunnels-enabling flows. We are not fooled and neither will the voters be.”

RTD explained that the governor’s bond measure is NOT “tunnels neutral” because it contains $485 million to buy water to replace what will be pumped into the tunnels.“Charging taxpayers $485 million to replace water sent through the tunnels to enrich mega-growers in Westlands and Kern Water Districts is nuts,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “With that Ponzi scheme included, this bond will become a referendum on the tunnels.”The governor’s flow language would allow public funds to be used to purchase water that could be diverted into the Delta tunnels.

“The half-billion dollars in funding for purchase of water upstream of the Delta, and later diverted into the tunnels is a massive transfer of wealth from the rest of us to a few mega-growers who hog 70% of the water exported from the Delta,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “Water transfers are needed by the BDCP for mitigation — essentially they can’t operate the new tunnels without putting more water in the River, which the BDCP will purchase – at taxpayer expense – from water districts and growers in the northern Sacramento Valley.

”Restore the Delta board member and water law expert John Herrick, said, “Legally it is the obligation of the projects to protect these fisheries and return their populations to pre-project or other levels. Until the projects have undertaken and accomplished this restoration of the fish populations, no public funds should, or can be legally used to recover the fish. Hence, any proposal for state or federal funding of new habitat for fish rearing or purchased water for fishery flows is a transfer of the projects’ contractors’ obligations onto the general public. Such a transfer is not just bad policy, it is illegal.

”The Department of Fish and Wildlife would use up to $485,000,000 from Sections 79733 and 79737 to buy water that would be dedicated under Water Code Section 1707 for in stream use in waterways upstream of the Delta, according to RTD.”However, once that water reached the tunnel intakes it could be diverted into the tunnels. The new wording does not prevent that. This water would be available for export from the Delta the same as any other water purchased by the exporters. The public would be paying for that benefit to the exporters,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. In a press release, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) assailed Governor Brown’s Water Bond as “a poster-child of pork barrel politics, a rejection of 21st Century solutions and a return to the failures of the Dam Building era. Contrary to claims by the architects of the Water Bond, it represents an enormous underground subsidy for BDCP’s Delta tunnels.” “It provides $2.7 billion for new, marginal, river-damaging, low yield dams benefiting special interests that will provide little ‘new’ water and would not be economically viable except for lavish public subsidies,” the group said.

“To persuade the dam lobby to support the Bond, the legislature increased funding for dam construction by slashing funds allocated to recycling by more than 44% from the previous version of the Bond.”CSPA noted that recycling projects provide far more “new” water at less cost while providing more jobs than surface storage projects. And recycling projects would help alleviate present shortages by creating “new” water within a few years in contrast to the decades required to design and build new dams.”This Bond does little to address near-term needs,” the group said.

CSPA Executive Director, Bill Jennings, observed, “Legislative sausage-making is always messy, but last minute sausage making ends up making baloney and this Bond is a subsidized truck load of pork baloney.”“The Governor inexplicably turned his back on 21st Century demand side strategies to embrace 19th Century supply side approaches that have brought us to the present crisis. California deserves better,” Jennings concluded.