Frankly My Dear, Prop. 1 Won’t Give a Dam

ca-water-for-food-and-people-movement-logoAfter 68% of the voters passed the $7.5 billion Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014, you may be wondering, when is that dam construction going to start? After all, Chapter 8 of the bond approved $2.7 billion for water storage, dams, and reservoirs, right?

Not exactly.

Subtract $54 million for statewide bond costs, and $2.64 billion remains for projects. This money will be awarded through a competitive process by cities and organizations throughout California, all vying for a sliver of funds for their own definitions of the somewhat generic bond language “water storage”. Water storage encompasses many types of projects including groundwater storage, groundwater contamination prevention, storm water capture, and water quality improvements that clean up and restore groundwater resources. Also, 50% of all newly stored water must first be siphoned off the top and used for environmental restoration.

fallow tomato field

Without creating substantial net new water, the most productive farmland on the planet continues to be taken out of production. This field used to grow processing tomatoes for everything from spaghetti and pizza sauce, to ketchup.

Surprisingly, the word “dam” is not mentioned one time in the law’s 14 pages. Also absent is language specifically earmarking money for major projects such as Temperance Flat Dam and Sites Reservoir. These projects have price tags in the $2.5 – $4 billion range, but no project can receive funding greater than half of its total cost. With so many hoping to catch a drop of the $2.7 billion rain, a dam is likely to be left underfunded – if chosen at all.

If you follow the confusing myriad of chapters and divisions and titles and sections and articles in multiple pre-existing decisions and agreements and mandates and acts and rules and laws, you will discover an abundance of references to one another amounting to an ample supply of worm holes and escape hatches that can be wiggled through at the last-minute in case building a dam ever makes it through the more than 50 pages of rules governing the Prop. 1 funding application.

fallow field with no water sign

The battle for a dam is simply a battle for cement without easing environmental restrictions dictating the direction of new water. Prop. 1 contains no such language.

Through an executive order dictated by Brown in August, an additional requirement of how climate change will be factored in will now add months to the submission process. No, voters didn’t approve that caveat. The smaller the project, the easier it will be to wade through the muck by the December 2017 deadline to apply. Larger projects will have to scramble.

The winners of Prop. 1 sprinklings will be determined by a nine-member panel called the California Water Commission (CWC). The CWC was eagerly formed in 2012 (two years before the proposition was passed by voters), and is comprised of unelected officials appointed by Governor Brown. Yes, the same Governor Brown who stood before the April 2016 signing of the agreement to tear down four Klamath dams and proclaimed, “We’re starting to get it right after so many years of getting it wrong.” And the same governor who said, “Building a dam won’t do a damn thing about fires or climate change or the absence of moisture in the air and ground of California.” And the same governor who has refused invitations to visit the Central Valley during the drought to see firsthand its devastating effects. This is the governor who will direct his commissioners, who will direct the dam money – or not.

Federal administrations like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, The National Marine Fisheries Service, and many others, have endless power to stop progress as well. One easy to understand example is The U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management’s 2014 decision to recommend the designation of an eight-mile segment of the San Joaquin River as a “National Wild and Scenic River.” This section falls in the footprint of the Temperance Flat proposal. Adoption of this recommended designation is all it takes to prevent Temperance Flat from ever being built, even if it were free. Environmental agencies, which trump the numerous existing governmental agencies, also stand ready with endless lists of threatened or endangered species and habitats sure to keep any dam construction tied up in court long after the water runs out.

Fast forward to January 2019 when the CWC is scheduled to begin its conditional funding commitments – more than four years after Prop. 1 was approved. If an anomaly were to have occurred, and dam-ground broke in early 2019, the soonest Temperance Flat could be completed would be the year 2026, and Sites in the year 2029. Fifteen years after the passage of Prop. 1, this dismal scenario is the best we can expect, but only if adequate funding was achieved, there was no environmental opposition, and the California and Federal governments did not use their authority to intervene. And it gets worse. The battle for a dam is simply a battle for cement without easing environmental restrictions dictating the direction of new water. Prop. 1 contains no such language.

For more than forty years, the seemingly bottomless political trick bag full of hopeful water solutions have come and gone. Prop. 1 is most the cleverly cloaked of them all, ultimately using our tax dollars to continue financially fortifying governmental and environmental agencies and regulations.

A viable remedy is a ballot initiative by the people to undo the deception of Chapter 8; to take the $2.7 billion – all of it, and decisively execute major projects with irrevocable language, funding, and deadlines; to ensure new surface water does not simply blend into the flow of existing discharges; to proclaim at last, the needs of all water users are once again secure. The last opportunity for such a measure to pass would have to be on the ballot of November 2018, before money we believed would build new surface storage is divvied up in the early part of 2019. There should be no doubt that the real water fix has never laid in the hands of politicians or unelected bureaucrats, rather, has always existed in the hands of the people.

Water dam it!

For more information and continued updates about the drought and water crisis in California, please visit The California Water for Food and People Movement Facebook group page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/CaliforniaWaterForFoodMovement/

Kristi DienerKristi Diener is the founder of the California Water For Food and People Movement, a grass roots action group committed to addressing the lack of common sense in water policy negatively impacting all water users in California. She is passionate about education that embodies facts, correcting misinformation in the media, and welcomes discussions and debates relating to all things water. She holds a degree in Mass Communications with an emphasis in Journalism from CSUF, and is part of a fourth generation family farm.