Ballot qualification brings second big water bond measure before California voters

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An $8.9 billion water bond measure has qualified for California's November general election ballot.

The general obligation bond measure is one of two state measures this year totaling $13 billion that include money for water projects.

Proposition 68, the $4.1 billion California Clean Water & Safe Parks Act, will appear on the June ballot and the recently qualified $8.9 billion Water Supply and Water Quality Act of 2018 now heads for the November ballot.

"We are very happy — now we can proceed with the campaign," said Gerald Meral, director of the Natural Heritage Institute’s California Water Program, and author of the November bond measure.

Proponents needed 402,468 valid signatures to qualify by random sampling and surpassed that number, according to Alex Padilla, Secretary of State.

"We had plenty of signatures, so we qualified two months early," Meral said.

An initiative can qualify via random sampling of petition signatures if the sampling projects a number of valid signatures greater than 110% of the required number.

The initiative needed 365,880 valid petition signatures, which is five percent of the total votes cast for governor in the November 2014 general election; Meral said the proponents turned in more than 600,000 signatures.

A third ballot measure supported by environmental lawyer Joseph Caves that would have authorized $7.99 billion in state general obligation bonds for safe drinking water and water quality improvements to reduce environmental vulnerability to climate change and park improvements failed to gather the needed signatures by March 22.

Caves’ organization, the Conservation Strategy Group, had also come out in support of Proposition 68, which was placed on the June ballot after the legislature approved the measure authored by California Sen. Kevin de Leon last year. Proposition 68 provides funding to items similar to Caves' measure, but authorizes $3 billion less.

Roughly two-thirds of the money in De Leon’s measure would go to build and maintain parks in park-poor areas like the Central Valley. The rest would be used to provide clean drinking water to low-income communities, replenish groundwater, support water conservation, shore up the levees in the San Joaquin Delta and provide funding to protect against wildfires, floods and mudslides.

The $8.9 billion water bond on the November ballot would provide $3 billion for safe drinking water and water quality, $2.9 billion for watershed and fisheries improvements, $940 million for habitat protection, $855 million for improved water delivery, $685 million for groundwater projects, and $472 million for dam repairs. The measure would require that certain projects provide matching funds and gives priorities to economically disadvantaged communities.

Meral said he isn't concerned that de Leon's measure will compete with his, because the focus of de Leon's bond measure is on parks though both provide funding for similar water projects.

A recent poll conducted for backers of the $8.9 billion measure found that 61% of voters would support it, Meral said.

The measure includes estimates from the Department of Finance and Legislative Analyst's Office putting the potential total cost to the state of issuing the $8.9 billion in GO bonds at $17.3 billion including $8.4 billion for interest costs over a 40-year period. It also included annual payments averaging $433 million.

The bond measure has been endorsed by the California Chamber of Commerce, Association of California Water Agencies, 60 different conservation groups, agricultural organizations and environmental justice groups.

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Bond elections Water bonds General obligation bonds State of California California