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Water Bond Debate Muddied by Dam Misunderstanding

PHOTO: California's water woes are one of the issues facing Golden State voters on Election Day. Voters will decide the fate of Proposition 1, known as the Water Bond, which sets aside billions to update water infrastructure, recycle water, and improve conservation. Photo of the San Joaquin River courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
PHOTO: California's water woes are one of the issues facing Golden State voters on Election Day. Voters will decide the fate of Proposition 1, known as the Water Bond, which sets aside billions to update water infrastructure, recycle water, and improve conservation. Photo of the San Joaquin River courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
October 28, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - California's water woes are one of the issues facing Golden State voters on Election Day.

Voters will decide the fate of Proposition 1, known as the Water Bond, which sets aside billions of dollars to update water infrastructure, recycle water, and improve conservation.

Steve Rothert, California director at American Rivers, says it's been decades since the state made significant investments in water systems - both natural and man-made. Whether it's rivers and wetlands or a dam, he says the state's water systems are all in need of help.

"We need to not only address the current drought and future droughts," says Rothert, "but to restore the fisheries and ecosystems that are the backbone of California's natural history."

Total funding is slightly more than $7 billion, and projects include watershed protection, increasing streamflows and cleaning groundwater contamination.

The bond also contains funding for water storage projects, which has generated the most intense debate over the measure.

"There is controversy because the bond includes $2.7 billion for water storage, but many people don't understand that doesn't necessarily mean dams," says Rothert.

Rothert notes groundwater storage will be the primary focus, which is much less expensive to establish, improve and maintain than building new dams. In addition, the Water Bond specifically states that any funding for surface storage projects will have to be approved by the California Water Commission, in consultation with the State Water Board and Department of Fish and Wildlife.

According to Rothert, any funding allocated to water supply projects must be "cost effective and provide a net improvement in ecosystem and water quality conditions."

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - CA