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CA Voter Support For Water Infrastructure Bill May Hang On The Weather

MARTINEZ (KPIX) -- Signature-gathering has begun to place an initiative on the 2022 ballot that would force the legislature to fund more water storage in California. But even supporters admit, the success of the measure may depend on the weather.

With many reservoirs in the state drying up and no guarantee of a wet winter, some Central Valley farmers and Southern California water districts are pushing an initiative called the 'Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022.' If passed by the voters, it would require the state to spend two percent of the general fund on projects that would expand water supplies.

"That would be $3-to $4 billion per year to fund water supply projects. And we don't choose specific projects, but we define categories that are eligible for funding," said Edward Ring, a co-organizer and spokesperson for the campaign known as More Water Now.

The effort to qualify the state-wide measure has just begun and many Bay Area water agencies aren't even aware of it yet. But Steve Sheldon, president of the Orange County Water District said when it comes to water projects, there has been a lot of political foot-dragging going on.

"In 2014, Californians passed Prop 1, which was supposed to fund water storage. Nothing has been constructed from that proposition," he said.

That includes the raising of the dam and expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County. It was approved for Prop 1 funds four year ago but still hasn't gotten the money. Ring thinks the legislature must be forced to act and said he feels confident the measure will pass if voters are motivated by yet another dry winter.

"A lot of this depends on the weather," he said, "but voters, as it is right now, very much support spending money on water infrastructure, by 70-80 percent, depending on the polls you look at."

But some environmental groups are lining up in opposition. They don't trust provisions in the measure that would speed up the environmental review process. Monday on the streets of Walnut Creek, Thomas Kalker sided with those who think the state should focus on more conservation.

"Spending more money is not necessarily the right approach. It's about how much we use, how we treat our existing water source," he said. "Instead of creating more, we need to use less. And what we have— use it wisely."

But Trevor Nicol couldn't remember a time when California wasn't in a drought situation. He said it's clear the state needs more water.

"I think everything becomes a little bit of a political difficulty when it comes to government now," he said. "There are things they should do but they have to go through all this red tape and everything to actually do it.

Supporters say the initiative isn't just about water storage. State funds could also be used for water creation projects, such as desalination and expansion of recycled water delivery systems. Initiative backers have until April to gather 997,000 signatures to put the measure on the November 2022 ballot.

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