California passes water bond - potential opportunities

On November 4, California voters passed a 7.5 billion dollar water bond. The average cost to California taxpayers would be approximately $10 per person per year for 40 years.

Some conservation groups supported the bond, others opposed it. Restore Hetch Hetchy took no position. Some of the pros and cons are listed below.

One possible project, that could be partially funded by the bond, is the expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County Such an expansion could be part of a plan to replace Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and make restoration possible.  their credit, principal Bay Area water agencies have begun to work together better. Increased physical and institutional connections between them provide the potential for increased efficiency and improved drought protection, as well as protection from catastrophic outage due to earthquake or another disaster.

An expanded Los Vaqueros could well play a significant role in a regional reliability plan. While it is operated by the Contra Costa Water District, it is not far from the East Bay Municipal Utility District's Mokelumne aqueduct, the South Bay aqueduct, and San Francisco's aqueduct. 

An expanded Los Vaqueros could provide to virtually any Bay Area agency in time of shortage. Los Vaqueros supplies could also be used to offset diversions in the Delta at times when fish are most at risk from entrainment. And of course, it could be used to offset storage lost when Hetch Hetchy Valley is returned to Yosemite National park and the American people.

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Now that the bond has passed, we suggest funds be applied to help restore Hetch Hetchy. Some of our concerns about the bond, as well as some of the things we like about it, are listed below.

  • Using general obligation funds rather than ratepayer funds to pay for water supply is inherently a subsidy and sends the wrong cost signal to consumers. Paying the full cost of water supply through one's utility bill provides a better incentive for conservation and efficient use.
  • No one knows how the California Water Commission would evaluate proposals to spend the 2.7 billion dollars allocated for the "public benefits" of new storage (surface or groundwater). While there is significant political pressure to allocate the funds for certain proposed (and controversial) surface storage projects, including Sites and Temperance Flat reservoirs, many believe those projects cannot pass any reasonable economic hurdles.
  • The bond would authorize 725 million dollars for water recycling projects, an area where (relatively) new technology shows great promise for the future.
  • There is broad agreement that the use of general obligation funds to clean up polluted groundwater is appropriate. Sometimes it's simply not possible to hold those accountable for the pollution responsible. And the water supply is undrinkable in many low income Central Valley communities.
  • The bond would authorize funding for removal of four dams on the Klamath River - an important step in the restoration of the river's fisheries for the benefit of Native American and northern California communities, as well as visitors to the region.