California voters have rejected Proposition 3, the $8.9 billion water bond, sending a message to politicians. But what is that message?
It can’t be that the state’s water problems have been solved. They haven’t been.
It can’t be that Californians don’t care about water. Poll after poll shows we do.
And it certainly doesn’t mean that more money – and potentially a lot of money – isn’t still needed to modernize our water systems. It is.
Maybe the message is that it’s time to look for a different approach. Instead of a costly bond that puts more pressure on the state’s general fund, legislators should consider fees tied directly to the amount of water people use.
California voters have approved about $60 billion (in 2018 dollars) for water projects since 1960. They just approved more than $4 billion in June for new land and water bonds. Proposition 3, which would have cost taxpayers about $17 billion over 40 years with interest factored in, might have been too much for voters to bear.
A water user fee would be simple: a tiny charge on all surface and groundwater withdrawals. We have similar fees already on energy, cell phones, and other basic utility services.
A modest user fee of only $20 per acre-foot of water, or $0.0006 per gallon, would generate $800 million per year. Such a fee would raise my home water bill by less than 50 cents per month.
The money raised should be committed to water projects with a clear public benefit and communities that cannot afford adequate water services. It could fund […]