Environment & Science

$11 billion water bond killed; California has unspent money for water projects

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Lawmakers in Sacramento have voted to pull an $11 billion water bond from the November statewide ballot. Supporters and opponents of the bond measure get another two years to fight over it.

On a bipartisan barnstorming tour to announce the bond last year, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger asserted that the state desperately needs water projects to go forward. From the start, skeptics knocked the bond for swelling $3 billion as its authors sought to expand support among legislators. Some, like Davis Democrat Lois Wolk, argued that the bond was poor policy that spent a lot of money on some bad ideas and not enough on good ones.

Beyond that, says Sierra Club lobbyist Jim Metropulos, the bond would pay for projects that already have unspent money allocated to them. "There's about 3 to 4 billion dollars in previous water bonds that had been approved by the voters but have not yet been spent or appropriated by the legislature for water projects."

The move to kill what would have been Proposition 18 answers a call from the same governor who'd wanted that bond package as a legacy. Public polls indicated that the measure was struggling in a tough economy.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say that delaying the vote for two years will give the state time to get its finances straight, and even to improve the bond. But the Sierra Club's Metropulos says good water projects shouldn't have to wait. "What is the money left in the different pots of water bond funds?" he asks, "And how can we use that money to get projects built in the ground to serve our water needs?"

Metropulos says his group never liked the bond measure. He holds out scant hope that it'll improve in the next two years.