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Proposed California Ballot Initiative Would Divert High Speed Rail and Water Bond Money

Shasta Dam / US Bureau of Reclamation
 

Shasta Dam / US Bureau of Reclamation

A proposed California ballot initiative would reallocate more than $10 billion from the High Speed Rail project and the 2014 water bond to instead fund water storage projects. 

But opponents say it could do much more than that. Some Republican lawmakers who have long fought for water storage projects, environmentalists, and some farmers say the measure is an attempt to misguide voters.

“It is a classic case where people really have to understand, this is not about High Speed Rail," says Jay Ziegler with the Nature Conservancy. "It’s about fundamentally reordering water law and water rights in California.”

The initiative would change what’s defined as a “beneficial use” of water in the state’s constitution, prioritizing domestic use and building storage projects for irrigation over every other use.

Republican state Senator Jim Nielsen says it would result in lawsuits and delay storage projects already under consideration for funding under the 2014 water bond.

“We have something settled now, established and understood by the voters, we ought not delay this whole process," says Nielsen. "We have now divided some of agriculture and it’s a very unfortunate development.”

But proponents say the money set aside for storage projects in the water bond won’t provide the supply needed. 

“Two-point-seven billion dollars available for potentially developing water infrastructure and water storage and water supply projects is not enough," says Aubrey Bettencourt with the California Water Alliance, which backs the initiative. "So this initiative is about looking at how we can shift the priorities in our state to fully invest in addressing this problem completely.”

Bettencourt says they have about 25 percent of the signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot.