Don’t be fooled by the “Water Priorities Public Interest and Public Trust Constitutional Amendment” initiative being referred to as “the Dam Train Initiative.”
The Central Valley has been ground zero for the hardest economic and social impacts relating to the lack of a reliable water supply. Unfortunately, this initiative will not advance water projects, but instead set us back years and possibly kill projects like Temperance Flat Dam.
Water agencies, agricultural groups, legislators and community leaders have worked hard for over 10 years to get a bond on the ballot to provide funding for major water storage projects. Finally, in November 2014, a water bond passed with $2.7 billion to do exactly that.
More than 67 percent of Californians voted in favor of the bond. Today, a joint powers authority involving five Valley counties has been formed to secure those state funds and, within a year, we may be starting the building process for Temperance Flat Dam.
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However, this initiative proposes to take funding away and put it into a brand new process that potentially puts this state funding into court and effectively killing our water-storage projects, because it endangers federal funding. In other words, the initiative puts uncertainty on the state funding, which gives the federal government enough of an excuse to walk away from our project.
Those who crafted this initiative never took the time to talk to those who were most involved with advancing the construction of this and many other water projects. The California Latino Water Coalition spent years leading our Valley’s water rallies in Sacramento, the historic march for water, reaching out to then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislators to engage them on the impacts of the drought and water waste due to lack of storage.
They were never contacted. Major agricultural groups, water agencies and farm bureaus were not contacted. Who, then, were these “groups” that were meeting and developing this initiative? Clearly that leads us to wonder if there is another agenda.
There are lots of problems in this initiative that concern water and agricultural experts. For instance:
▪ Courts will be faced with the question of what the language means for existing water rights holders that are based on priority, and whether senior water rights will be demoted or curtailed. For this reason, the Northern California Water Association has taken a strong opposition to this initiative.
▪ The initiative states: “The public interest in assuring the highest priorities of beneficial use and water conservation as a public benefit to satisfy the public trust.” This language confuses established terms of beneficial use and the public trust doctrine. The combination of terms is unprecedented in statutory and case law.
Please do not be fooled by this initiative. Let’s stay on track with the water bond.
Manuel Cunha Jr. is president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League.