Attorney General Harris ‘Green Lights’ Signature ­Gathering Effort for High­-Speed Rail Funds to Water Storage

Taylor Hillman Water

high ­speed rail
Supporters of a proposed ballot measure to reallocate funds for Gov. Brown’s high-speed rail project and a prior water bond measure to new water storage projects received the measure’s official title and summary from California Attorney General Kamala Harris, opening the door to start signature ­gathering efforts for the initiative with voters.

“It is disappointing that Harris chose to present the initiative as a fish versus people measure, when it’s clearly a commonsense effort to provide water for people first,” said Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director for the California Water Alliance, or CalWA. “This measure takes money away from an unpopular and divisive rail project and makes sure the people of California will never again have to face the severe water cutbacks they experienced this year in their homes.”

“Voters deserved an impartial and objective characterization of this proposed ballot initiative, not one that distorts the measure’s overriding goal of creating more water for everyone, including the environment,” she said. “What they got from Harris instead was politics as usual.”

A fiscal analysis by the Legislative Analyst’s Office’s analysis showed the measure neither increases nor decreases the state’s debt payments. Its other fiscal effects on federal, state and local government are unknown.

Recent polls show Californians strongly support terminating the Governor’s priority high­speed rail project and using its funds to provide people more water. The measure must collect 585,407 valid signatures of California ­registered voters before April 26, 2016 to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

“It’s a rare chance for the people of California to tell the state to get its priorities straight,” Bettencourt said. “High Speed Rail is an unpopular boondoggle and a reliable water supply means more to the people and economy of this state in light of the current drought than ever before. Californians want to prepare the state for inevitable new droughts yet to come.”

Bettencourt emphasized that adding more storage to the state and federal water project systems will benefit more than just people and food producers, it will mean that wildlife refuges and habitats throughout the state will benefit from additional water when new droughts inevitably arrive. “The measure will give the system more operational flexibility and more options,” she said.

Information for the measure is available online at It provides California with five critically needed benefits:

  • 1. It moves people and food security to first in line for using water by making them the top priorities in California’s Constitution.
  • 2. It redirects $10.8 billion previously approved by voters for High Speed Rail and Water Storage to new water facilities that will serve Californians for a lifetime.
  • 3. It puts project selection and operating decisions in the hands of elected regional water experts equally representing all areas of the state rather than leaving them to political appointees with agendas contrary to what a majority of people want or to decisions and interpretations by the courts.
  • 4. It protects and preserves the Sacramento ­San Joaquin River Delta Estuary with coequal goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem.
  • 5. It creates no new debt or additional tax burdens for the State or to taxpayers.

Board of Equalization Vice Chair George Runner and California State Senator Bob Huff (Dist. 29­-San Dimas), as proponents of the CalWA­sponsored measure, submitted the measure for title and summary language on November 12, 2015.

Besides changing California’s constitution to clarify water use priorities, it also redirects unspent High Speed Rail Proposition 1A (2008) and some Proposition 1 (2014) water bond funds to build new surface water and groundwater storage projects, bringing control of all water   ­storage construction bond funds under one roof. Using existing funds means it requires no new debt, user fees or additional taxes.

The measure removes spending authority from political appointees and places it in the hands of a new Authority elected by regional water experts — including representatives from cities, counties, water districts, community groups and others — from 48 regions up, down, and across the state.

“In times like these, the only responsible thing to do is ensure that all Californians have safe, reliable and secure water and food supplies,” said Bettencourt.

She said the measure will accomplish that goal by redirecting funds to better uses by conserving, recycling and recharging groundwater aquifers and building new storage projects and permanent infrastructure to capture and store water for use as domestic water supplies, food production, and environmental protection.

“This corrects an oversight by the federal government and state in mandating storm water runoff recycling facilities, but leaving cities and communities across the state without access to funds to pay for them and setting the stage for big jumps in every user’s water bill,” she concluded.

To read the proposed initiative, see: “Water Priorities Constitutional Amendment & New Surface Water and Groundwater Storage Facilities Bond Act