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Proposed Ballot Initiative Would Divert High Speed Rail and Water Bond Money

Ezra David Romero
Valley Public Radio
Friant Dam near Fresno could eventually be augmented by a new reservoir at Temperance Flat

A proposed California ballot initiative would reallocate more than $10 billion from the High Speed Rail project and the 2014 water bond to instead fund water storage projects. As Capital Public Radio’s Amy Quinton reports, the measure would do much more than that.

Opponents of the proposed initiative would seem to be strange bedfellows, some Republican lawmakers who have long fought for water storage projects, environmentalists, and some farmers. Jay Ziegler with the Nature Conservancy says the measure is an attempt to misguide voters.

Ziegler: “It is a classic case where people really have to understand, this is not about High Speed Rail, it’s about fundamentally reordering water law and water rights in California.”

The initiative would change what’s defined as “beneficial use” of water in the state’s constitution, prioritizing domestic use and building storage projects for irrigation over every other use. Republican Senator Jim Nielsen says it would result in lawsuits and delay storage projects already under consideration for funding under the 2014 water bond.

“We have something settled now, established and understood by the voters, we ought not delay this whole process. We have now divided some of agriculture and it’s a very unfortunate development.”

But proponents say the money set aside for storage projects in the water bond won’t provide the supply needed. Aubrey Bettencourt is with the California Water Alliance, which backs the initiative.

“Two-point-seven billion dollars available for potentially developing water infrastructure and water storage and water supply projects is not enough. So this initiative is about looking at how can we shift the priorities in our state to fully invest in addressing this problem completely.”

Bettencourt says they have about 25 percent of the signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot.