California Passed a New Water Bond...
- By Julie Rentner, Director of Special Projects
On November 4, 2014 more than 67% of voters (nearly 5 million Californians) voted to approve the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 (Proposition 1). The Act authorized $7.54 billion in general obligation bond funds to support water supply, conservation, and quality improvement projects. Such “water bonds” are not easily approved by voters and mean quite a lot to the State. Between 1996 and 2006, voters approved over $11 billion to support similar work. You can check on the outcomes of these expenditures at the Bond Accountability website http://bondaccountability.resources.ca.gov.
Multi-benefit projects are designed to reduce flood risk and enhance fish and wildlife habitat by allowing rivers and floodplains to function more naturally. These projects create additional public benefits such as protecting farms and ranches, improving water quality, increasing groundwater recharge, and providing public recreation opportunities, or any combination thereof.
(Chart courtesy of the California Natural Resources Agency)
While the sheer magnitude of the funding is staggering, it is important to remember that the benefit provided to taxpayers varies greatly depending on the details about how it is spent. Using these bond funds awarded through competitive grant programs, River Partners has acquired and restored thousands of acres of floodplain habitat lands along the edges of California’s largest rivers. We have made great strides towards the recovery of sensitive wildlife – like the valley elderberry longhorn beetle, riparian brush rabbit, and least Bell’s vireo. We have leveraged state funding to attract federal dollars to California to serve as matching funds, broadening the impact of the state’s investment. In addition, perhaps most importantly, we have delivered over $60 million to the communities in which we work to provide jobs to area residents, lasting improvements to the environment, and outdoor recreation opportunities.
The historic passage of Proposition 1 means even greater outcomes for the environment in the coming years, and greater hope for recovery for several riparian-dependent wildlife species on the brink of extinction. Californians deserve to see the State spend these funds as conscientiously as possible, yielding the greatest possible benefits for the smallest price. Thanks to hard work from a variety of conservation interests, and fueled by the visibility of some of our demonstration projects (such as the Dos Rios Ranch Project and the Riparian Sanctuary Project), we believe a major stride towards such accountability was provided in the language of the new water bond: the words “Multi-benefit Projects” were included specifically to describe the types of projects that will be eligible for $1.495 billion of the bond.
For over fifteen years, River Partners has been working to develop conservation projects that provide multiple benefits to a variety of interests. We have developed projects that simultaneously provide wildlife habitat enhancement and improved flood protection, water supply reliability, recreation opportunities, and even transportation improvements. We do this difficult work of project integration for many reasons – to attract a variety of funders, to ease the permitting process, to engage multiple interest groups, etc. We have also found it to be a very effective way to ensure project success. It is really quite simple: the more folks who benefit from your project, the more likely it is that your project will be successful! With the passage of Proposition 1 and the integrated “multi-benefit” language, the legislature and the voters have recognized that our approach works. The bond language clearly identifies that future public expenditures must follow our model, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to implement even more of these integrated projects, stretching the bond funds as far as they can go.
You may have read about other parts of the new water bond – the $725 million tagged for water recycling and water treatment technology projects, the $900 million dedicated to groundwater quality in areas reliant upon groundwater for drinking, or even the $2.7 billion earmarked for new storage projects, dams and reservoirs. Considering how interconnected our water systems are, we can only hope that the program managers in charge of spending these public funds will also prioritize their use for projects that benefit as many Californians as possible – hopefully they will also prioritize multi-benefit projects.
To learn more about multi-benefit projects in the Central Valley, please check out: http://www.multibenefitproject.org.
The above article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of the River Partners Journal.