In Depth on Measure Proposition 1: Water Bond. Funding for Water Quality, Supply, Treatment, and Storage Projects


Authorizes $7.12 billion in new general obligation bonds, and re-allocates $425 million in previously authorized unsold bonds, to fund various water-related programs.


Most of the snow and rain that California’s people and economic activities rely on has historically fallen in the northern and eastern parts of the state, whereas the state’s major population centers have developed along the Pacific Coast and in the arid south. To supply cities and to provide irrigation water for agricultural land in the Central Valley and coastal valleys, as well as to manage periodic flooding, in the 20th century, the state and federal governments engineered complex systems for storing and transferring water: the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP).

Northern California watersheds feed the state’s two largest rivers, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, which meet in a delta and estuary, the Bay-Delta Estuary, before flowing into San Pablo and San Francisco bays. Water for the CVP and SWP moves through the area where the rivers converge and is transferred to users around the state; about two-thirds of Californians get some portion of their water for drinking, household uses, and landscaping through this system. About three million acres of farmland, much of that in the San Joaquin Valley, are served. Of this water that has been “developed” for economic purposes, about 20% goes for urban uses, including municipal and industrial uses, and about 80% goes for agriculture. Additional “undeveloped” water meets environmental needs, such as instream flows that support fisheries and other aquatic life. Proportions vary from region to region and from year to year.

By historical standards, the 20th century was unusually wet. Although the century was punctuated by several multi-year droughts, much of the time there was enough snow and rain to support generous allocations of water for agricultural and urban development. But by the first decade of the 21st century, problems had become apparent:

  • The state’s system of water allocation was overtaxing the environment, especially fisheries, in the upper watersheds, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the San Francisco Bay, and California coastal areas.
  • Changing climate conditions might affect the amount, location, and timing of precipitation that the water system relies on, creating both increased risks of flooding and delivery uncertainties; drought conditions were likely to become the norm rather than the exception.
  • The state’s groundwater aquifers, especially in the agricultural Central Valley, had been overdrafted, in some cases beyond recovery.

Water Rights

California’s system of surface water rights gives priority to owners of land adjacent to waterways and to those whose water rights were acquired before 1914. The same water may be used multiple times by different water rights holders. Although data is not uniformly available for all holders of water rights, several recent studies have found that California has issued water rights for at least five times more surface water than the state receives on average from precipitation.


In California, groundwater is considered to belong to the owner of the land above it, although groundwater is not distributed uniformly within a groundwater basin. For most urban and rural users, surface water is supplemented by groundwater. In the 20th century, groundwater provided 30% to 46% of the water Californians used, depending on whether a year was wet or dry. Unlike the other Western states, extraction (pumping) of groundwater has not been monitored or regulated in most of the state. Legislation just sent to the Governor would regulate the statewide pumping of groundwater for the first time.


In 2009, the Legislature passed a five-bill water package. It included a plan for the Delta that created coequal goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and restoring and enhancing the Delta ecosystem, while protecting cultural, recreational, natural resource, and agricultural values of the Delta. It also called for reduced statewide reliance on the Delta. The package included bills for groundwater monitoring, statewide water conservation, and accounting for water diversions. The fifth bill was an $11.14 billion bond proposal, the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010. To get legislative support to pass this bond bill, the leadership included funding for a wide range of projects around the state.

This water bond was to be voted on in the general election in November 2010, but the Governor pulled it from the ballot with the concurrence of legislators, sensitive to criticisms of what has been referred to as “pork” in the bond and concerned that California’s voters would not support such a large bond during a statewide recession. With minor modifica­tions, the water bond was rescheduled for the November 2012 ballot but pulled again by Governor Brown and legislators for the same reasons.

Faced with allowing the highly criticized $11.14 billion bond to go to voters in November 2014, and under mounting pressure caused by serious statewide drought conditions, Governor Brown and legislators came together after the regular deadline for placing measures on the ballot to negotiate the present $7.545 billion proposal.

Major issues in bond bill negotiations and in subsequent support for or opposition to the bill focus on (1) funding that would directly advance the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, (2) funding for water purchases that could indirectly advance the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, (3) storage projects, and (4) continuous appropriation of funds for storage projects.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP)

In an effort to address declines of fish species while ensuring a more reliable water supply, CVP and SWP water contractors have developed a habitat conservation plan that includes twin tunnels to run for about 30 miles under the Delta to deliver Sacramento River water directly to export pumps in the south Delta. (These twin tunnels are an alternative to the above-ground Peripheral Canal rejected by California voters on referendum in 1982.) As beneficiaries of the water deliveries, contractors have said that they will pay for the tunnels, which represent about two-thirds of the total project cost. Because they will construct these tunnels with ratepayer rather than taxpayer funding, the project does not require voter approval. The other third of the BDCP project consists of 21 conservation measures intended to restore fisheries and the ecosystem. These are defined under BDCP as public benefits that should be paid for by taxpayers, partly through general obligation bonds. The 2010 water bond included some funding for these public benefits. Because of the controversial nature of the twin tunnels projects, the Governor and legislators tried to make the current bond “BDCP neutral.”

Water Purchases for Environmental Flows

In 2000, state and federal government agencies established an account to buy water from holders of water rights upstream of the Delta to be used for instream flows to benefit fish as well as to ensure reliable water supplies to users south of the Delta. Scientists questioned the benefits to fish, and use of the account was discontinued in 2007. Funds are allocated in Prop. 1 for water purchases associated with enhanced stream flows. Supporters say the bond contains protections against use of the flows to support BDCP and against the kinds of abuses alleged for the earlier water account. Opponents say the bond does not contain adequate protections.

Storage Projects

The bond includes funding for statewide water system operational improvement in four categories: groundwater storage projects, projects that coordinate surface and groundwater use (conjunctive use projects), local/regional surface storage projects, and surface storage projects of statewide significance. Eligible projects in the last category include raising Shasta Dam, expanding Los Vaqueros Reservoir in the Bay Area’s Contra Costa County, building Sites Reservoir west of Interstate 5 in Northern California to provide offstream storage of water pumped from the Sacramento River, and building Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River above the existing Friant Dam to increase upstream storage capacity. Negotiators disagreed on the proportion of the bond that should be allocated to storage and on the balance of alternative storage, such as underground storage, to traditional above-ground storage projects.

Continuous Appropriation of Funds for Storage Projects

Continuous appropriation means bond funds are not subject to the legislative budget process and go directly to the entity identified to receive them: in this case, the California Water Commission. Proponents of continuous appropriation say that this is necessary to provide a level of certainty for the high level of local investment, and that appropriations decisions are best insulated from legislative politics. Opponents of continuous appropriation say that bond language guiding the Water Commission favors surface storage over invest­ments in underground storage. Opponents also maintain that the Legislature’s role in the budget is an appropriate check on the Administration and, by extension, the Water Commission, who are all gubernatorial appointees.


  • Clean, Safe, and Reliable Drinking Water, $520 million (7%).
  • Protecting Rivers, Lakes, Streams, Coastal Waters, and Watersheds, $1.495 billion (20%).
  • Regional Water Security, Climate, and Drought Preparedness, $810 million (11%).
  • Statewide Water System Operational Improvement and Drought Preparedness (dams and other storage), $2.7 billion (36%).
  • Water Recycling, $725 million (9%).
  • Groundwater Sustainability, $900 million (12%).
  • Flood Management, $395 million (5%).

See Addendum to Analysis of Proposition Analysis PDF in "Additional Materials" for project details.

Key Points: 

Addendum to Analysis of Proposition 1

Detailed Provisions of the Water Bond

Clean, Safe, and Reliable Drinking Water - $520,000,000 (7%)

  • $260,000,000 for deposit in the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund Small Community Grant Fund for grants for wastewater treatment projects, with priority given to projects in disadvantaged communities and to projects that address public health hazards
  • $260,000,000 for grants and loans for public water system infrastructure improve­ments and related actions to meet safe drinking water standards and/or ensure affordable drinking water sources; a portion of that would be available for matching funds for disadvantaged communities
  • $327,500,000 for watershed protection and restoration projects, as follows:

Protecting Rivers, Lakes, Streams, Coastal Waters, and Watersheds – $1,495,000,000 (20%)

♦       Baldwin Hills Conservancy - $10,000,000

♦       California Tahoe Conservancy - $15,000,000

♦       Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy - $10,000,000

♦       Ocean Protection Council - $30,000,000

♦       San Diego River Conservancy - $17,000,000

♦       San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy - $30,000,000

♦       San Joaquin River Conservancy - $10,000,000

♦       Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy - $30,000,000

♦       Sierra Nevada Conservancy - $25,000,000

♦       State Coastal Conservancy, including funds for the San Francisco Bay Conservancy region, the Santa Ana River watershed, the Tijuana River watershed, the Otay River watershed, Catalina Island, and the central coast region - $100,500,000

♦       Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy - $50,000,000

  • $200,000,000 to be administered by the Wildlife Conservation Board for projects that result in enhanced stream flows
  • $100,000,000 for projects to protect and enhance urban creeks and their tributaries in areas served by the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles River and Mountains Conservancy and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
  • $20,000,000 to fund multi-benefit watershed and urban rivers enhancement projects in urban watersheds to increase regional and local water self-sufficiency
  • $475,000,000 to the Natural Resources Agency to support projects that fulfill a variety of obligations of the State of California, including:

♦       The Central Valley Project Improvement Act

♦       Interstate compacts related to Tahoe Regional Planning

♦       Settlement agreement obligations related to restoration of the Salton Sea

♦       The San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act related to recovery of Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon

♦       Unspecified intrastate or multiparty settlement agreements related to water acted upon on or before December 31, 2013, with priority given to: projects of state­wide significance; projects restoring natural aquatic or riparian functions, or wetland habitat for birds and aquatic species; projects protecting or promoting the restoration of endangered or threatened species; projects enhancing the reliability of regional or interregional water supplies; and/or projects providing significant regional or statewide economic benefits

  • $285,000,000 to the Department of Fish and Wildlife for watershed restoration projects statewide, including fisheries restoration
  • $87,500,000 to the Department of Fish and Wildlife for water quality, ecosystem restoration, and fish protection facilities that benefit the Delta
  • $510,000,000 to hydrologic regions as follows:

Regional Water Security, Climate, and Drought Preparedness - $810,000,000 (11%)

♦       North Coast hydrologic region - $26,500,000

♦       San Francisco Bay hydrologic region - $65,000,000

♦       Central Coast hydrologic region - $43,000,000

♦       Los Angeles subregion - $98,000,000

♦       Santa Ana subregion - $63,000,000

♦       San Diego subregion - $52,500,000

♦       Sacramento River hydrologic region - $37,000,000

♦       San Joaquin River hydrologic region - $31,000,000

♦       Tulare/Kern hydrologic region - $34,000,000

♦       North/South Lahontan hydrologic region - $24,500,000

♦       Colorado River Basin hydrologic region - $22,500,000

♦       Mountain Counties Overlay - $13,000,000

  • $100,000,000 for water conservation and water-use efficiency plans, projects, and programs
  • $200,000,000 for multi-benefit storm water management projects

Statewide Water System Operational Improvement and Drought Preparedness - $2,700,000,000 (36%)

Continuously appropriated to the California Water Commission for:

  • Surface storage projects identified in the CALFED Bay-Delta Program Record of Decision (enlarging Shasta Dam, expanding Los Vaqueros Reservoir, building Sites Reservoir, building Temperance Flat Dam)
  • Groundwater storage projects and contamination or remediation projects that provide water storage benefits
  • Conjunctive use and reservoir reoperation projects
  • Local and regional surface storage projects

Funding may be available under this chapter for environmental documents and permitting.

Water Recycling - $725,000,000 (9%)

Water recycling projects, contaminant and salt removal projects, dedicated distribution infrastructure, pilot projects for potable reuse, technical assistance for disadvantaged communities.

Groundwater Sustainability - $900,000,000 (12%)

Projects dealing with groundwater contamination of drinking water; projects for recharge of vulnerable, high-use water basins.

Flood Management - $395,000,000 (5%)

Statewide flood management projects, including $295,000,000 for projects to reduce the risk of levee failure and flood in the Delta.


Arguments In Opposition: 
  • New dams would not add appreciably to California’s ability to store water but would damage the environment while diverting funds from projects that hold the promise of restoring the state’s aquifers and creating true water security.
  • Prop. 1 indebtedness would crowd out funding for projects like public schools and public health while subsidizing storage and water purchases that mostly benefit a few powerful agricultural interests.
  • Prop. 1 would enable continued unsustainable exports of over-allocated water from Northern California rivers and the Delta to San Joaquin Valley agriculture, threatening fisheries and related jobs.
Arguments In Support: 
  • Additional dams would allow California to store more water in wet years and better manage it in wet and dry years for human, agricultural, and environmental needs, reducing reliance on groundwater.
  • Prop. 1 would provide funds for communities, including disadvantaged communities, to develop safe drinking water; would invest in water conservation, recycling, and improved local water supplies; would increase flood protection; and would fund groundwater cleanup.
  • Prop. 1 would help protect California’s rivers, lakes, and streams from pollution and contamination and would provide for restoration of fish and wildlife resources.
More about Supporters: 

Yes on Propositions 1 and 2 •

Supporters of Prop. 1 include: (Signers of official arguments are in bold.)

  • Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.
  • Paul Wenger, President, California Farm Bureau Federation 
  • Mike Sweeney, California Director, The Nature Conservancy 
  • U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer
  • California Chamber of Commerce
  • The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Association of California Water Agencies
  • Western Growers 
  • League of California Cities
  • California State Association of Counties

Major Financial Contributions (Financial contributions to ballot measure campaigns change frequently; for up-to-date campaign contribution information, please check with these websites:, Fair Political Practices Commission and Cal-Access.)

Please note: A coalition is raising money to support both Proposition 1 and Proposition 2. The total contributions shown will be used by both campaigns.

(as of October 11, 2014 total from top contributors: $6,772,015)

  • Sean Parker ($1,000,000)
  • Brown for Governor 2014 ($875,765)
  • California Alliance for Jobs - Rebuild California Committee ($521,250)
  • California Hospitals Committee on Issues ($500,000)
  • Doris Fisher ($499,000)
  • L. John Doerr ($475,000)
  • Laborers Pacific Southwest Regional Organizing Coalition - Issues PAC ($400,000)
  • Robert Fisher ($400,000)
  • John Fisher ($351,000)
  • Western Growers Service Corporation ($250,000)
  • Northern California Carpenters Regional Council Issues PAC ($250,000)
  • Reed Hastings ($250,000)
  • California American Council of Engineering Companies Issues Fund ($250,000)
  • Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters Issues Committee ($250,000)
  • California Farm Bureau Federation ($250,000)
  • William Fisher ($250,000)

From the Fair Political Practices Commission:

More about Opponents: 

No on Prop. 1 •

Opponents of Prop. 1 include: (Signers of official arguments are in bold.)

  • Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro, Chair, Natural Resources Committee 
  • Conner Everts, Executive Director, Southern California Watershed Alliance 
  • Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, Executive Director, Restore the Delta 
  • Adam Scow, California Director, Food & Water Watch 
  • Zeke Grader, Executive Director, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations 
  • Center For Biological Diversity
  • Central Delta Water Agency
  • South Delta Water Agency
  • Southern California Watershed Alliance
  • Winnemem Wintu Tribe 

Major Financial Contributions (Financial contributions to ballot measure campaigns change frequently; for up-to-date campaign contribution information, please check with these websites:, Fair Political Practices Commission and Cal-Access.)

(As of September 9/24/2014 total: ($40,000)

  • Dante John Nomellini, Attorney at Law ($10,000)
  • Del Carlo Farms. Inc. ($5,000)
  • L&R Farms ($5,000)
  • Thomas Zuckerman ($5,000)
  • R&M Ranch ($2,500)
  • Ferguson Farms, Inc. ($2,500)
  • George Perry & Sons, Inc. ($2,500)
  • V. and A. LaGorio ($2,500)
  • Robinson Family Ranch 4 LP ($1,000)
  • Robinson Diversified Farms LP (1,000)
From Voter's Edge:


Additional materials: 
PDF icon Project Details for Proposition 172.56 KB