LOS ANGELES (AP) – California voters on Tuesday approved spending $7.5 billion to improve the state’s outdated and undersized water storage and delivery system amid a historic drought.
Proposition 1 had about two-thirds support among nearly 2.6 million votes counted, with millions more ballots left to tally. It calls for building two new reservoirs, investing in conservation measures, water recycling and groundwater cleanup.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who spent more time and money campaigning for the bond measure than his own re-election, said it will help California make investments in water that will pay dividends during future dry periods.
“I just spent the last several months saying, ‘save water, save money,'” he said. “These are pillars because water is life. It is the basis of our wellbeing and also our economy.”
In a rare show of bipartisanship, Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature gave nearly unanimous support for the measure, which directs the state to issue $7.1 billion in new borrowing and redirect $425 million from past ballot propositions.
Opponents, including farmers in the Northern Californian delta and sport fishing interests, say attention to the state’s water system is long overdue, but this initiative was not the answer. A group called Californians Against More Debt, Misplaced Spending argued that the measure would thrust the state into deeper long-term debt and do nothing to address the ongoing drought.
Repaying the water bond could cost more than $14 billion over 40 years, according to the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.
The question appeared on the ballot amid California’s third consecutive dry year and after Brown in January declared a drought emergency.
Many provisions in the measure are designed to increase the availability of water, with the largest single portion of the bond likely being spent on building the Sites Reservoir in Colusa County north of Sacramento and the Temperance Flat reservoir northeast of Fresno. Another $725 million would be spent on water recycling and treatment projects, and $900 million would go toward cleaning up contaminated groundwater.
Not all the money is designated for bolstering supplies. The second largest funding category sets aside $1.5 billion for ecosystems and watershed projects, while $395 million is available for shoring up levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.