Valley Voices

Aubrey Bettencourt: Truth propels ‘Water not Train’ ballot measure

This sign represents the views of protestors who attended a California High-Speed Rail Authority board meeting held in Fresno on April 4, 2013.
This sign represents the views of protestors who attended a California High-Speed Rail Authority board meeting held in Fresno on April 4, 2013. The Fresno Bee File

California agriculture is again demonstrating its inability to lead on water policy.

Currying favor with political powers, special interests from the north and in the Valley are waging a ridiculous war of deception against a common sense initiative to take back Californians’ control over the state’s dysfunctional water management system and end funding for high-speed rail.

An example is Manuel Cunha’s Feb. 23 op-ed in The Bee: “Initiative would sink hard-fought water bond.”

Who benefits when the farming community feuds?

The measure – Water Priorities Initiative – is collecting signatures to qualify it for November’s ballot and requires no new bonds, taxes or user fees.

The measure restores balance and guarantees:

▪ Removing all unissued funding from high-speed rail, stopping it in its tracks.

▪ Protecting water used for people in the Constitution while protecting all existing water rights.

▪ Immediate approvals and funding for specific shovel-ready projects, including Sites and Temperance Flat reservoirs and expansions of Shasta and San Luis reservoirs.

▪ Funding statewide construction of local stormwater capture, wastewater treatment and water recycling projects.

▪ Cleansing and recharging groundwater with new groundwater storage and treatment facilities and creating sustainable management programs.

▪ Modernizing existing surface and groundwater storage facilities.

▪ Creating engineering, construction, scientific, recreation, farming, industrial, business jobs and more.

It also protects the environment – funded projects deliver at least 2.5 million acre-feet more water for critical environmental ecosystems.

Most say this measure is a no-brainer. Yet, we hear protests from a small group motivated more by bruised egos, hidden agendas, small-mindedness and protecting the bullet train for political gain, than the good of the people.

Manuel Cunha, the long-revered president of the Nisei Farmers League, is disingenuous. He repeatedly mischaracterizes the initiative and defames its sponsor and authors.

He claims he was denied input. Documentary evidence says otherwise. On KMJ 580 radio this past week, Cunha’s feeble response was he “isn’t good with emails.” He apparently also doesn’t know how to return my phone calls.

The black-and-white truth is that our measure contains specific funding for Temperance Flat. Building the dam. Period.

Another red flag: A former High Speed Rail Authority publicist employed by the Nisei Farmers League circulated Cunha’s opposition talking points containing words that mirror exactly talking points distributed by the Northern California Water Association, a rice-growers group in Sacramento.

Don’t be fooled. Ask instead, should this initiative succeed, who has the most to lose by stopping high-speed rail and building more water storage – you or someone with political “assurances” and “relationships”?

Decide for yourself. Read the measure at

Aubrey Bettencourt is the executive director of the Hanford-based California Water Alliance.