16 environmental justice, tribal and fishing groups announce opposition to 'More Water Now'

By Dan Bacher | @DanBacher | 

SACRAMENTO— Sixteen tribal, environmental justice, fishing, and conservation groups on Tuesday, December 21, announced their strong opposition to the “More Water Now” ballot measure initiative, otherwise known as the “Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022.”

The initiative, being pushed by Central Valley agribusiness and water districts to fund an array of new water projects in California, is being circulated for signatures and could potentially be placed on the November 2022 ballot. 

Groups announcing their opposition include: Sierra Club California, California Indian Environmental Alliance, Society of Native Nations, Idle No More, Restore the Delta, Azul, Golden State Salmon Association, Sunrise Movement OC, California Coastal Protection Network, Health the Bay, Surfrider Foundation, Los Angeles Waterkeeper, Orange County Coastkeeper, The River Project, Heal the Bay, and Social Eco Education. 

Proponents of the measure say they represent “a growing coalition that brings together Californians from all backgrounds, united by a single goal: Let’s overcome droughts and climate change by investing in a 21st century water infrastructure.”

They claim on their website that The Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022 initiative “funds construction of water supply infrastructure and water conservation programs to end water scarcity in California forever” for “an estimated $50 billion over the next ten years (less than this fiscal year’s state budget surplus).”

“From California’s vast tracts of irrigated farmland that feed the world, to the tens of millions of Californians that have built an economy that is the envy of the world, it is time to upgrade California’s water system to create sustainable, abundant water,” their website states.

“When water is abundant, everyone wins. Urban customers and farmers have plenty of water even in dry years, with plenty of additional water to preserve and improve California’s precious ecosystems,” initiative advocates contend.

Water Districts endorsing the initiative include the East Orange County Water District, Mesa Water District, Olivenhain Water District, Orange County Water District, Serrano Water District and Yorba Linda Water District.

Organizations endorsing it include the California Latino Water Coalition, California Milk Producers Council, California Water Alliance, Central Valley Taxpayers Association, Los Angeles County Business Federation, National Latino Ranchers and Farmers Association and Tulare County Farm Bureau.

Cities and Counties endorsing it include the City of Newport Beach, City of Porterville, City of Woodlake, Kings County and Tulare County.

Finally, businesses backing “More Water Now” include Barcellos Farms, Duarte Nursery, Fowler Packing Co., Granville Homes, Hammond Ranch, Harris Farms, John Kautz Farms and Pacific Farm Management, 

On the other hand, rather than being an “everyone wins” proposition as advocates contend, opponents say the initiative will fund “environmentally destructive” water projects by siphoning money from the state General Fund.

Among the most harmful parts of the initiative is a provision that would amend the State Constitution to siphon money from the state General Fund to be allocated to provide minimum funding to environmentally destructive water projects,” according to Sierra Club California in a statement.  “Earmarking these funds for storage and supply projects will severely impede funding for other public amenities that depend on the General Fund, such as health care, fire fighting, housing, and other public services.”

Opponents also note that the initiative also includes a provision that would allow the Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency to override decisions by the Coastal Commision - including approvals, denials, and/or issuances of permits that include requirements for environmental protection. 

“These projects include dams, reservoirs, ocean desalination plants in Tsunami zones adjacent to the Ascon superfund site, and other projects that have documented negative impacts on the environment,” the Sierra Club continued. “How these projects are prioritized for funding is not dependent on efficiency, meaning that projects that are the least sustainable may secure funding. Moreover, there would be no environmental standards for the projects.”

“This measure would take California in the wrong direction regarding water supply management instead of investing in solutions we need to stay resilient in the face of the climate crisis,” the Club stated.

Again, the measure’s backers are largely agricultural businesses who would financially benefit from the measure passing, as the LA Times reported in early December

Tribal, environmental justice, fishing and conservation groups leaders issued statements citing their many reasons for opposing the initiative:

“Our oceans are in much need of healing,” said Lydia Poncé, Mayo, Quechua. “The ocean and all the waterways are life-giving as part of Earth Mother. The proposed plans and the earmarked funds will further desecrate Her health. As Indigenous People, we do not support Ecocide, and Terracide. We defend and honor Nature’s Rights; Her rights include defending and honoring the Spirit of Water.” 

“California should immediately be supporting a wide scale return of Tribal management of California's ecosystems,” said Sherri Norris, Executive Director, “California Indian Environmental Alliance. “Tribal management created the resilient local food systems and groundwater recharge of our state's naturally filtered drinking water. Indigenous management of forested landscapes created balanced carbon sinks. In October 2020, Governor Newsom called for ‘accelerated use of nature-based solutions’ to meet California's climate change goals (Executive Order N-82-20) and through Executive Order N-15-19 created the California Truth & Healing Council.”

“It is clear the Governor does not understand how the proposed Sites and Delta Conveyance projects would undercut those efforts and be a continuation of the destruction of local habitats, global climate pollution and the continuation of Tribal cultural genocide. These wide-reaching projects are contrary to Tribal management systems and cannot be engineered to support restoration. Perhaps this is why the state is afraid to complete the EIR/EIS studies before these projects are approved,” noted Norris.

“Committing unrestricted general fund dollars to water districts that are in climate change denial, that have used too much water for years unsustainably, and that refuse to address issues of water equity and affordability would make for dangerous policy and wasteful spending,” stated Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director, Restore the Delta. “General fund dollars are to support real-time priorities in state spending, not special interests without accountability.”  

“If adopted, this initiative would be a step in the wrong direction for California,” said Brandon  Dawson, Director, Sierra Club California. “The climate crisis and its impacts on California water supplies demand that we move away from environmentally damaging storage projects like the type this ballot measure would fund. There are more reasonable and smarter ways to meet California’s water demand, and this initiative doesn’t provide those options.” 

“Californians cannot afford to take away money from social programs to invest it in carbon-intensive water boondoggles that could further industrialize our coasts for private profit,” stated Andrea Leon-Grossmann, Director of Climate Action, Azul, “Enabling polluters to gut coastal and environmental protections to erode the human right to water is a step backwards for environmental justice and climate goals.”  

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