Editorial: Let’s keep Californians hydrated

Of course it’s understandable that many California voters might be feeling sticker shock about the nearly $50 billion in infrastructure bonds they are expected to decide Nov. 7. But we live in a state that is adding 500,000 population yearly while pushing to stay at the forefront of the global economy. This means California simply cannot afford the risk of massive breakdowns to an outmoded infrastructure, as was seen in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

Proposition 84 is the second of two water bonds on this year’s ballot. It would allow the state to sell $5.4 billion in general obligation bonds for a laundry list of projects related to increasing the statewide supply of safe, high-quality water, plus flood control, park improvements and natural resource protection.

Because Prop. 84 covers such a wide range of uses it is not the easiest measure to understand, which could lessen its chances for passage. However,a proposition that budgets everything from salmon runs to treatment plants for drinking water is an accurate reflection of California’s complex relationship with H2O.

This is a state that has to be permanently concerned about water shortages in Southern California, flooding in the Sacramento Delta, irrigation in the Central Valley, polluted urban waterways, protection of fragile beaches and wetlands, and cyclical statewide droughts and flooding.

Prop. 84 sets aside money for all these concerns, without creating any new bureaucracy or spelling out exact projects that would best be put forth by local officials.

The proposition’s wide appeal may be seen in its unusually united support from Gov. Schwarzenegger and Phil Angelides, local governments, labor unions, the California Chamber of Commerce, and virtually all of the state’s independent water districts and major environmental groups.

Bay Area residents might not see shortages of their drinking water as a high-priority worry. But Prop. 84 does offer several specific benefits for this region, such as a likelihood of more resources for restoring the endangered wetlands surrounding San Francisco Bay.

The proposition also sets aside its biggest allocation, $1 billion, for projects that would increase local production of water. This would lessen the pressure on Northern California to send its Sierra and Sacramento Delta water southward to the vote-rich Los Angeles Basin.

Political and fiscal realities make it unlikely that anything bigger than the $50 billion price tag for Propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E and 84 — all endorsed by The Examiner — could have a chance this year to win on Election Day. In fact, this package is no more than a decent down payment on what state officials claim is a $160 billion cost for fully updating California’s infrastructure to meet 21st century requirements.

But these combined 2006 propositions make a reasonable, practical start toward fixing increasingly pressing needs. Everything we don’t do now would have to be taken care of eventually and would only cost more later on.

Part of the San Francisco Examiner's 2006 Election Coverage.CaliforniaCalifornia NewsOpinion

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