Video Voter Series: Proposition 1

Video Voter Series 2014 Prop 1 from Claremont McKenna College on Vimeo.


Proposition 1 is a legislatively-referred bond act that would enact the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014. Prop 1 would authorize $7.12 billion in general obligation bonds for state water supply infrastructure projects, such as public water system improvements, surface and groundwater storage, drinking water protection, water recycling and advanced water treatment technology, water supply management and conveyance, wastewater treatment, drought relief, emergency water supplies, and ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration.

Prop 1 replaces Proposition 43 on the November 2014 ballot. Prop 43 was previously certified for the November 2010 and 2012 ballots, but was taken off in 2010 and moved to 2012 and then again taken off and moved to the 2014 ballot. Prop 43, drafted as a $11.14 billion bond, was cut down by the California legislature to $7.12 billion in August 2014.

Existing Law

Since the authorization of the State Water Project with Prop 1 in 1960, California voters have consistently approved measures to improve California’s water infrastructure. The last time California voters approved a water-related bond was in 2006, with the passage of Prop 84. Prop 84 authorized $5.4 billion in bonds for water related projects. Prior to that, in 2002, voters approved Prop 50, which authorized $3.4 billion for water related projects.

Fiscal Impact (as estimated by LAO)

Average annual bond repayment costs of $360 million over the next 40 years, for a total cost of approx. $14.4 billion.

Major Parties

Proponents and donors in support:

  • Gov. Jerry Brown (D)
  • US Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)
  • US Sen. Barbara Boxer (D)
  • California Farm Bureau Federation
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Audubon California
  • California Chamber of Commerce
  • Delta Counties Coalition
  • Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Ducks Unlimited
  • American Rivers
  • Silicon Valley Leadership Group
  • Friant Water Authority
  • San Diego Water Authority
  • Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Northern California Water Association
  • State Building and Construction Trades Council of California
  • Association of California Water Agencies
  • Fresno Irrigation District
  • Western Growers
  • League of California Cities
  • California State Association of Counties

Opponents and donors in opposition:

  • California Sportfishing Protection Alliance
  • California Striped Bass Association
  • California Water Impact Network
  • Center for Biological Diversity
  • Central Delta Water Agency
  • Concerned Citizens Coalition of Stockton
  • Factory Farm Awareness Coalition
  • Friends of the River
  • Food and Water Watch
  • Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations
  • Restore the Delta
  • San Francisco Crab Boat Association
  • Sherman Island Duck Hunters Association
  • Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermens’ Association
  • South Delta Water Agency
  • Southern California Watershed Alliance
  • Winnemem Wintu Tribe

Arguments of Proponents

Gov. Jerry Brown (D), Paul Wenger, President of California Farm Bureau Federation, and Mike Sweeny, California Director of The Nature Conservancy, wrote the argument in favor found in the state’s official voter information guide:

    1. Yes on Proposition 1 ensures a reliable water supply for farms and businesses during severe drought — protecting both the economy and the environment.

    California is in a serve, multi-year drought and has an aging water infrastructure. That is why Republicans and Democrats and leaders from all over California came together in nearly unanimous fashion to place this fiscally responsible measure on the ballot…

    2. Yes on 1 is fiscally responsible.

    Proposition 1 will not raise taxes. It is a no-frills investment in critical projects that doesn’t break the bank – it even reallocates money from unused bonds to make better use of the money.

    3. Yes on 1 grows California’s economy.

    California’s economy depends on a reliable water supply. Proposition 1 secures our water future, keeps our family farms and businesses productive, and puts Californians to work building the new facilities we need to store, deliver and treat water.

    4. Yes on 1 safeguards our existing water supplies.

    Proposition 1 will clean up our contaminated groundwater which serves as a critical buffer against drought by providing additional water in years when there is not enough rainfall or snow.

    Proposition 1 expands water recycling and efficiency improvements making the best use of our existing supplies.

    Proposition 1 provides funding for clean drinking water in communities where water is contaminated.

    5. Yes on 1 stores water when we have it.

    Proposition 1 invests in new storage increasing the amount of water that can be stored during wet years for the dry years that will continue to challenge California.

    6. Yes on 1 protects the environment.

    Proposition 1 protects California’s rivers, lakes and streams from pollution and contamination and provides for the restoration of our fish and wildlife resources.

    7. Proposition 1 contains strict accountability requirements including annual audits, oversight and public disclosure to ensure the money is properly spent.

    8. Yes on 1 – supported by Republicans, Democrats, farmers, local water suppliers, conservation groups, business and community leaders…

Arguments of Opponents

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance issued a “statement of opposition” to Proposition 1. The group provided 14 reasons to vote against the proposition. The following is a selection from those reasons:

    1. Undermines the public trust doctrine.

    Water in rivers and streams, like the air people breathe, belongs to the people of California as part of the public trust… Private interests have a right to use the public’s water for beneficial purposes, as long as the public’s ownership in healthy rivers is protected. The Bond requires taxpayers to enrich a few wealthy water users by purchasing water the public already owns, at inflated prices, to protect the public’s rivers and environment. It’s a retread of previously discredited programs that allowed speculators to reap millions in profit selling the public’s water back to the public.

    2. Undermines the principle of beneficiary pays.

    The major reason more dams and other environmentally damaging projects have not been constructed in recent decades is the principle, stemming from approval of the State Water Project in 1960, that beneficiaries of water projects, not taxpayers, must pay for new projects. The Bond turns the beneficiary pays principle on its head by requiring taxpayers to pay for projects benefiting special interests…

    3. Undermines the principle that projects should mitigate adverse impacts.

    Projects have long been legally responsible for mitigating their adverse impacts. Many, if not most, of the watershed protection and restoration projects that will be funded by the Bond are efforts to repair and mitigate environmental damage caused by projects that were constructed by and for special interests… Taxpayers should not be on the hook because regulators failed to require special interest projects to mitigate their adverse impacts.

    4. Ushers in a new era of big dams.

    The Bond includes the largest appropriation for new dams in the state’s history… A number of dam projects that had been abandoned because of low water yield and financial infeasibility are being resurrected in response to the Bond’s commitment of billions of taxpayer dollars for dams. If the Bond passes, fishermen and environmentalists can expect to find themselves spending decades fighting new dam schemes on rivers throughout the state…

    7. Provides little cost-effective near-term drought relief.

    Funds for recycling, conservation and groundwater cleanup were slashed 36% in the final version of the Bond in order to provide money for expensive water purchases and speculative new dams that will not be operational for decades… In essence, the Bond sacrifices funds for proven near-term projects that would create “new” lower cost water, contribute to regional self-sufficiency, reduce dependency on the Delta and provide drought relief in order to subsidize long-term pie in the sky projects benefiting the hydraulic brotherhood…

    9. Sabotages efforts to meaningfully resolve California’s continuing water crisis.

    Prop. 1 is a red herring that diverts attention from the real causes of the state’s water crisis and the steps and resources required to address it. The water crisis is the result of the over-appropriation, waste and inequitable distribution of limited water supplies and the failure to balance the public trust…
    10. Crowds out other critical investments.

    The Bond imposes an insidious hidden cost by crowding out critical investments in public schools, roads, public health and safety. California cannot afford to provide lavish subsidies to special interests, while ignoring existing and urgent infrastructure needs…

    11. Is fiscally irresponsible.

    California is staggering under a $777 billion debt and voters have already approved $128 billion in general fund Bonds that must be repaid by taxpayers. The Bond would add over $7 billion in taxpayer indebtedness that must be repaid with interest, which can easily double the original amount. Subsidies for special interests are inherently fiscally irresponsible.

    12. Is a hogfest of projects unrelated to water supply or drought relief.

    Bond proponents carefully disguised pork projects by not identifying specific projects in general funding allocations to various groups. Associated Press, in a widely published article, reported that Conservancies and other groups have acknowledged they will use Bond funds for pedestrian and bike trails, parkways, interpretive centers, trash cleanups and other projects with no direct connection to the stated intent of the water Bond…

    13. Shamefully holds a few worthy projects hostage to fiscally irresponsible and environmentally damaging projects.

    The fact that the Bond contains a few worthy projects fails to justify sacrificing core environmental principles and fiscal responsibility. Approximately, 6.9% of the Bond will provide safe drinking water and clean water programs to disadvantaged communities. This commitment is long overdue and should have been presented as a standalone proposition. It’s shameful to use the long-ignored plight of those lacking safe drinking water in disadvantaged communities as justification for eviscerating environmental protection and providing extravagant subsidies to special interests….


Proposition 1 supported by both Republicans and Democrats and was put on the ballot with a near unanimous vote of the legislature. Cut down from its previous form as Prop 43, Prop 1 is much more likely to pass, and contains much less pork than its previous iteration. However, Prop 1 will impose a significant cost to the state. Ultimately, your vote for or against Prop 1 is a choice between making improvements to California’s water infrastructure, or holding the line on California’s spending.

Want to learn about the other ballot propositions? Click here to learn more!


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