Repeal $11.14 Billion Water Bond

Posted on 14 February 2012

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By Kristin Lynch
Pacific Region Director for Food & Water Watch

Corporate agriculture giants are plotting a massive, multi-billion dollar water heist and they want you to pay for it. Part of their thirst was quenched in December when Senator Feinstein made it easier for them to resell public water for private profit. Now these water barons have their eyes set on a bigger prize: passage of an $11.14 billion bond measure to help them tap the Sacramento River. In order to protect California’s fiscal and environmental health, the state legislature should repeal this wasteful bond.

In an effort to conceal its true intent, the water bond initiative is named the “Safe and Reliable Drinking Water Act.” But in reality, it is a major threat to Californians. Key players in drafting and lobbying for it were Westlands Water District and Paramount Farms, both occupying the arid southwestern corner of the Central Valley, and two of the nation’s biggest and most powerful agriculture operations. Combined they hold over 800,000 acres of land and hold rights to over one million acre feet of water, which, for perspective, is more water than San Francisco and Los Angeles combined use each year!

Paramount Farms, owned by Stewart Resnick, a Beverly Hills billionaire, is the world’s largest grower and shipper of almonds and pistachios, lucrative crops that are exported overseas. It also controls the state’s largest underground reservoir, the Kern County Water Bank, which stores taxpayer-subsidized water intended for farming, but often sells it to real estate developers for big profits.

Paramount and Westlands want a massive tunnel to tap the mighty Sacramento River and its tributaries. The bond sets aside $2.25 billion to pay for the environmental damage that the tunnel would cause. Because of the enormous costs and environmental consequences of this project, once known as the “peripheral canal,” California voters overwhelmingly rejected it in in 1982.

A tunnel diverting the fresh water of the Sacramento River could spell disaster for the ecosystem of the San Francisco Bay Delta, the largest estuary on America’s West Coast. The salmon population nearly went extinct after record amounts of water were exported from the estuary in 2005 through 2008.  

For these and economic reasons, the bond polled so poorly in 2010, that the legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger delayed it to the November 2012 ballot. Now Governor Jerry Brown and Senator Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, fearing voters will rightfully shoot down the bloated bond this November, have proposed delaying it once again. All of these politicians have received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Resnick.

California’s financial situation is dire and this general obligation bond would force even more cuts to our public schools and essential public services such as healthcare and safety. California, already facing a $13 billion budget deficit, is still paying off massive debts from previous bond measures that continue to suck money away from these vital services.

Bad bonds don't get better with age, especially this bond that is full of pork and paves the way for environmentally damaging projects like a massive tunnel to export delta water to wealthy agribusinesses at the expense of taxpayers. California needs real investments in our water infrastructure like upgrading aging pipes, cleaning up waterways and improving efficiency and conservation efforts. The best option to provide clean, reliable water to all Californians is a legislative repeal of the water bond before November.

More information on Food & Water Watch’s campaign to stop the corporate water grab can be found at:


Kristin Lynch is the Pacific Region Director at the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch. She is responsible for developing and overseeing regional and national campaigns that ensure our food and water resources are regulated in the public interest rather than for private gain. Kristin has been developing, directing and implementing campaigns on various economic and social justice issues for over 15 years. Before joining Food & Water Watch, Kristin worked as a director for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United where she directed labor, healthcare reform and electoral politics campaigns. Kristin has a J.D. from Golden Gate University School of Law and a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Minnesota.

People who call for the defeat of the water bond currently scheduled for the November ballot fail to recognize the importance to all Californians the bond represents. Our water supply system, on which our society and economy is based, is woefully inadequate to serve our growing population and to maintain a standard of life to which we have become accustomed. A recent Field Research poll revealed that 62% of respondents believe it is worth it to invest funds to ensure a reliable water supply for the future. Interests who claim the water bond should be defeated are out of step with almost two-thirds of California voters.

Mike Wade
California Farm Water Coalition

The Field Poll Mike Wade refers to was so worded as to provoke a predetermined response. It threw fear into people's minds. Under the guise of "water reliability," it made people believe that if they didn't vote for more dollars for water interests that water would stop flowing from their taps!

The plan now is to take the Water Bond off the ballot this November. However, the canal/tunnel part will continue to be built under the "beneficiaries pay" option devised by the Delta Stewardship Counci. This will be a clear violation of the co-equal goals--now state law--in which the Delta ecosystem must be restored along with the building of a conveyance. The Water Bond money is supposed to do that, but it it's pulled from the ballot and the conveyance continues, the goals will not be met.

It seems the DSC is hoisting itself on its own pitard!
--Burt Wilson

First of all, 1 million acre-feet of water for 800k acres is about 1.2 feet of water per acre. That's extremely efficient! Most crops require 3 to 4 ft to grow.

Secondly, I'm not sure what the hatred is lately against rich people. It's not relevant that they are rich (or even greedy). You're food comes from farms! If you want to pay more for food, then restrict water to farming.

And what about the "evil greedy corporations" in SF that get their water from YOSEMITE VALLEY! Oooooh, let's punish them too.

For the record, these type of bonds should be voted on, and they should be carried out responsibly with the environment in mind. BUT let's quit the hateful bashing, and approach things logically.

Wealth and greed do indeed play into this equation.
Do you think it is purely coincidental that the primary benefactors of this are both ?
I'll make you a deal, let's end all subsidies, allow the free market to decide how much to charge for a bag of pistachios or a bottle of PomFresh and leave those subsidy dollars in the pockets of consumers to spend as they see fit. Some would have you believe this is class warfare.It is not. More accurately it is the 99% getting fed up with the inequality of the system.Funny how it only became class warfare when we opted to fight back.
You want to build a canal ? Fine. Let's show everyone how much it is going to cost and who the real beneficiaries are.
Allow farmers to pay the actual total cost involved, free of hidden subsidy, for the water they receive and let the competition of a free market to decide which ones succeed and which ones fail.
That's the American way. No ?

Even stripped of all it's pork this is still a bad bond.
Why ? At the root of it is a Periperal Canal.
$11 billion is the tip of the iceberg for what it will actually wind up costing the taxpayers and ratepayers to build a conveyance and mitigate the damage caused to primarily benefit a select few agricultural interests in the Central Valley Led by Stewart Resnick.
Is that bashing the wealthy ? Heck No.
Mr. Resnick should be allowed to make all the money he can legally.
Just don't ask the taxpayers and ratepayers to subsidize his success.
If a Peripheral Canal/Water Bond is a good idea for ALL who are being asked to ultimately pay the bill then a comprehensive independant cost/benefit analysis should be mandatory before a vote is taken.
BDCP's lame answer that it is not required by law is just that LAME.
There is a reason water contractors are so adamantly opposed to performing this analysis.They already know the answer.
If "we the people" understood how much this is actually going to cost and who the "real" beneficiaries are then the 62% that Mike Wade refers to as supporting this would vanish in a heartbeat. Keep in mind that in that survey 78% of those same respondants couldn't tell you what the delta was or why it was important to them not to destroy it.

The water bond does not include funding for construction of a peripheral canal.

Mike Wade
California Farm Water Coalition

I can't believe this writer didn't do her homework.

As Mike Wade of the Farm Bureau stated there is NO peripheral canal or tunnel project as part of the State Water Bond on the November ballot. I have no idea what the writer is talking about.

I'll explain it for you.....the first $2.25 billion of the bond is allocated to the BDCP, misleadingly called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the centerpiece of which is a massive tunnel/canal to tap the Sacramento River.

In an effort to disguise the true intent of the Bond and BDCP, the bond says the $2.25 billion can only be used to clean up the environmental mess caused by the tunnel/canal, though not for the actual piece of infrastructure. Nice trick from the corporate ag lawyers trying to slip one by the voters.

The BDCP should really be called the Big Dumb Canal Project, which the voters correctly rejected in 1982.

If this water bond goes through, it will be the death knell for West Coast salmon populations that are already struggling from years of poor water management and diversion from our rivers. California salmon are a cultural icon and an important food staple for native communities. Not only that, but their presence brings millions of dollars into the economy and helps keep commercial fishing communities afloat. We should be supporting local fishermen and our California economy, and the only way to do that is to keep these salmon populations healthy and thriving.

Save the salmon: repeal the water bond!

To those who say that the water bond does not reference a peripheral canal (or tunnel/conveyance), they can sleep soundly because they are correct. But they know better, and the forces pushing the water bond's passage know full well that there is $2.25 billion dollars earmarked for the BDCP's tunnel/canal dreams.

There is a reason that thoughtful people are suggesting that the water bond needs to be repealed. The campaign to "stop the corporate water grab" is well named. There are three videos that we suggest be looked at that help tell the story:

Stop the Corporate Water Grab (from Food & Water Watch)

Railroaded Salmon (from Salmon Water Now)

Kill the Canal (from Salmon Water Now)

Think about it. Talk about it. Stop the water bond, and kill the canal!