Endorsement: Proposition 1 is a crucial investment in California’s future

Opponents of Proposition 1 – the state’s first comprehensive water infrastructure bond proposal in a generation – are trying to convince voters that fears over money should outweigh their long-term best interests. They loudly point out the state will be on the hook for $360 million a year for 40 years if the $7.5 billion water bond passes.

But what happens if Proposition 1 fails? What will that cost Californians?

Without the bond, the state will have to look elsewhere for hundreds of millions of dollars to provide clean drinking water to some of our poorest communities – i.e., our Central Valley neighbors – who don’t have it now.

Without the bond, the state’s first substantial investment in desalination – $725 million up front, but a total of $1.45 billion with matching money – won’t be made.

Without the bond, many small communities will have to fund their own wastewater treatment improvements – communities like Escalon, which clearly needs to find some help in staunching the stench now overpowering the Del Rio area south of the Stanislaus River.

Without the bond, money for additional flood control is lost. Anyone who recalls 1997 knows our rivers flood. The ’97 floods cost $2 billion statewide, a significant portion in and around Modesto, Ripon and Manteca. Walnut farmers were hardest hit, but beekeepers lost 20,000 colonies, entire peach orchards drowned and hundreds of homes were left covered in mildew, mold and the stain of dirty water.

Without this bond, we won’t have $295 million to fix severely dilapidated Delta levees.

Bluntly, without this bond, significant investments in making our water supply more reliable, our drinking water cleaner and our rivers safer won’t be made.

So, yes, fiscal conservatives are justified in gasping over an annual bill of $360 million. But they’re foolish to think it will be cheaper to go without it.

If we let this opportunity pass, 36 million Californians will be vulnerable to extreme hardship in the next drought. And there is always a next drought.

Due to global warming or not, climate scientists say we’re entering a phase of warmer summers with dramatically changing rainfall patterns. When it rains, they say, it will rain harder and there won’t be as much snow in the mountains. That snow has always acted as a natural, time-released reservoir. In a changing climate, if we can’t capture more of those heavier rains, it will escape to the ocean.

Perhaps that’s one reason many environmentalists embrace this bond. They recognize that without more stored water, it won’t be just farmers going without – it will also be threatened fish species. Juvenile salmon depend on cold flows for their early summer migration; they die in water warmer than 72 degrees. The coldest water is in pools deep behind the dams. But as drought conditions drain our reservoirs, those cold pools grow smaller and warmer.

Some fear this is a stalking horse for Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels, but we believe it could lessen the pressure for building them. Having more water available more consistently might convince South Valley farmers they don’t need the tunnels. It might also be harder to persuade voters to spend another $25 billion on tunnels if they’re already paying off a water bond.

This bond could create more underground storage, perhaps reversing a trend of groundwater pumping that is entirely unsustainable. Simply put, either we store more water or farmers will continue to pump to save their crops. Or they’ll go bankrupt.

Proposition 1 lists five significant storage projects important to our state’s $44 billion agriculture industry. Only one would directly benefit farmers in our region, raising Sisk Dam to create more storage in the San Luis Reservoir. A portion likely would belong to West Side farmers.

No proposition is perfect – including this one. But it’s a lean, focused bond that promises real benefits – which is why so many who understand California water issues are supporting it. Not just big farmers or water districts, but environmentalists, conservationists, unions, business groups, governments, etc. Of 114 Assembly members and senators, 112 voted for it.

Our Valley legislative delegation – Republicans Anthony Cannella, Tom Berryhill and Kristin Olsen, and Democrats Cathleen Galgiani and Adam Gray – were instrumental in working out the compromise that got this on the ballot. Modesto’s Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau, co-authored the arguments for Proposition 1 with Gov. Brown. Their contributions were important.

This is an investment we must make, and make now. This bond is our best hope for having sufficient water in our long-term future.