A few weeks ago, the governor and other state politicians ran victory laps proclaiming their passage of California’s new record budget. The behemoth budget — the largest spending plan in our state’s history — provides $183 billion to fund many diverse programs and projects deemed necessary to the people and government of California.
Their speeches forgot, however, to mention a crucial item the Senate, Assembly and Governor Brown left out: funding to addresses California’s chronic water deficit.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Our state is miraculously emerging from five hard years of extreme drought, yet there’s no guarantee that abundant rains will fall again next year. California lawmakers, the presumptive global leaders on Climate Change, should have learned that lesson. Recall that water has been the public’s top-of-mind issue, courtesy of the epic drought, epic winter storms, failing levees, flooding and a timely lesson taught to us by nature as catastrophe was narrowly averted at Oroville Dam.
They say water is an A or Z issue; when you don’t have water it’s a A issue, when you do have water it’s a Z issue. Yet Californians have transcended this old adage. Poll after poll finds vast public support — among voters of every age, party, geography, and education level — for fixing our water problems. Some surveys say nearly nine out of ten adult voters believe our state’s number one priority must be to provide Californians with an adequate, reliable and safe water supply.
These voters’ opinions were likely influenced by the triple hammer blows of enforced mandatory water rationing, the browning of their homes’ lawns and landscapes, and receipt of skyrocketing water and sewer bills, plus being drowned in the din of widespread media coverage.
And yet, with the electorate solidly supporting meaningful solutions to California’s decades-long neglect of our water needs, the Legislature and governor cued up their budget, aimed elsewhere, and entirely missed providing a funding fix for water.
Governor Brown and the state’s legislators omitted funds for greater storage; for maintenance and repairs of existing dams, facilities and levees; and for the necessary planning of future projects to make our water more plentiful, safe and reliable.
Remember, this year’s budget set an all-time record for spending. Several new taxes and fees will soak every Californian for decades to come. Legislators gave plenty of money to other needs, including sound projects as well as pork, but they left out funding for our water supply and they refuse to explain why.
In the end it’s like the drought never happened for California’s legislature and governor.
Our lawmakers completely ignored this February’s storms that filled Oroville Dam to the brim and spilled over, threatening hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in property damages. They even voted down a separate bill that would have provided $100 million to repair vital infrastructure in downstream communities damaged by the dam’s chaotic releases.
The Legislature also neglected many billions lost by water rationing to California’s economy over the past five years along with the many harms that drought wreaked on California’s environment, endangered fish and wildlife.
There’s no explaining the “why?” behind the choices made by our state’s elected officials. All that can be done is to act locally and tell your own elected officials how frustrating it is to be ignored on a subject so vital as the water you drink.
If they can’t — or won’t — give you good reasons for their decisions and votes regarding budgeting funds that failed to update our water supply, then perhaps it’s time for another meaningful action… at the ballot box.