State Capitol building in Sacramento Calif

The State Capitol building in Sacramento, Calif.

Will the next $7.5B truly flow to where needed?

When it comes to water and politics we’ve made things way too complicated, and it’s apparently costing California taxpayers billions of dollars.

Without patting him on the back or pouring cold water into his arguments, there’s a retired farmer from Central California who’s personally bankrolling an advertising campaign in several large California newspapers to ask a good question: Where has all the money gone that California voters approved over the years for water projects?

It’s a rather timely question given that legislators booted the $11.1 billion water bond measure they first approved for the 2009 ballot off the 2014 ballot in favor of a $7.5 billion version. That sentence reads as confusing as the issue is.

Credit California Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr. for that move; he said he wouldn’t support anything over $6 billion while farmers were demanding no less than $10 billion.

Retired farmer Dino Cortopassi asserts that over half the $5.4 billion approved in a 2006 bond (Proposition 84) was wasted on “non-water pork.” The advertisements make many other assertions. Read them for yourselves then make up your own mind.

I hope someone honestly verifies Cortopassi’s claims, because some of them get really close to questions reporters started to ask earlier this year of key political leaders.

Earlier this year reporters apparently discovered that much of the money approved in Prop. 84 was still unspent – eight years later. At least that’s what one LA Times reporter said publicly while moderating a panel discussion on water politics in Sacramento in February.

Simple question

The questioning was simple: “Why didn’t we spend this money earlier?”

What happened to the investigative journalism related to that bit of information shared by the Times reporter? If $5.4 billion in bond money was approved for projects in 2006, where were the $5.4 billion in beneficial water projects to show for it?

Panelists at the Sacramento water symposium seemed to agree that Sacramento lacked the political will following the 2006 election to actually use that money for what they said it would be used for.

Amazingly, Sacramento quickly found the political will earlier this month to force an $11.1 billion water bond off the ballot and replace it with a slimmer version.

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My purpose is not to argue against the merits of the current water bond or to criticize Mr. Cortopassi’s efforts; the question does bear asking: Will this $7.5 billion truly begin to pave the way towards addressing California’s real water needs, or will we simply come to realize in several years that once-again our political leaders failed to deliver on their promises and address California’s broken infrastructure.

California may only have one more chance to get it right as thousands of acres of permanent crops have already been bulldozed, hundreds of thousands acres of idle farmland look no closer to being replanted than they were in February, and the chorus of those resigned to California agriculture’s coming demise seems to be growing louder.


Reach me at [email protected] or follow me on Twitter @ToddFitchette

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